September’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 4

Here is part 4 of our new music picks for August. You can catch up with Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 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…

Thee Sacred Souls / Sacred Souls
Mark: One of the best examples of Retro soul around is San Diego band ‘Thee Sacred Souls’. The band’s first club dates led to a record deal with the revered Daptone label, their first singles racked up more than ten million streams in a year, and now their debut album is getting rave reviews. This is no surprise, as this silky mix 70s soul & Doo Wop strains is really good. Plenty of great falsetto crooning from vocalist Josh Lane about love found & lost, with lush harmonies and horn arrangements. So smooth, yet somehow sounding more authentic than a lot of the other bands worshiping at the retro-soul alter.
Neil: An album that effectively channels down tempo sweet soul music of the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s. The tracks are mainly sultry summertime slow jams, with accompanying vocals and occasional spoken passages that talk of love and romance. There are trademark soul horn stabs in all the right places too. It’s all superbly executed, with glorious harmonies and a soothing loving touch to many of the tracks.

I survived, it’s over / Ruth, Rich
Mark: This sounded like the kind of experimental noodling, that really does nothing for me, but I included in in this round-up as I know Neil likes this kind of thing. However I have to say that I actually really enjoyed this. Rich Ruth is the moniker of veteran Nashville musician Michael Ruth; ‘I survived, it’s over’ is his third album and his first release for Jack White’s Third Man label. It’s a sort of ambient take on Americana: melding spiritual aesthetics, electronic touches, rock and psychedelia, space-jazz, shredding guitars, pedal steel, droning synths, and lots of other elements. Created in 2020 his home studio during the pandemic with samples and re-worked contributions from other musicians (including three Sax players), it was an emotional response to (among other things) a series of tornados that ravaged his neighbourhood. It is a truly massive sounding, deeply spiritual and beautifully unique listen. A spiralling flurry of emotions explode out of each track, leaving something intense and rewarding and its place. It reminded me somewhat of Tortoise in some places, so I wasn’t surprised to find out it was mixed by John McEntire (the drummer/producer from that band).
Neil: Lush layers of soothing synths with middle eastern flavoured percussive elements, saxophone and mellow fuzz-box jazz guitar are some of the main ingredients in Rich Ruth’s ‘I survived its over’. The album has self-confessed therapeutic intentions; the music aimed at helping listeners find elusive inner peace and calm, healing the traumas that many of us experience in modern day life. To achieve its aims, it moves effortlessly between ambient music, early 70’s influenced jazz and psychedelic rock, fusing these ingredients together as a whole, rather than having them compete against each other.

Heartmind / McCombs, Cass
Mark: The tenth album from the cult California singer-songwriter delivers a suite of strongly melodic and intimate folky-pop. If you are unfamiliar with his work, he has been often compared to Elliott Smith and this album retains some of that influence, along with elements of Dylan and Grant Lee Phillips. While there is definitely a folk album at its core, there is more diverse instrumentation than you would expect. Some tracks lean into a sunny Teenage Fanclub sound, others into a psychedelic Jazzy vibe. A complex and musically adventurous album that often surprises with its quirkiness. Sardonic lyrics and clever wordplay hide an emotional core, as the album reflects the loss of close friends and musical comrades.
Neil: ‘Heartmind’ by Cass McCombs is an album created as a reflective and creative response to the loss of some of the singers’ closet friends. That said, the music in the these tracks is often easy to listen to, rolling with gentle washes of melody, but also with little moments of off kilter strangeness. The lyrics, however, are another thing with complexity, sadness, and vivid scenes all woven in. It’s a highly focussed album that mixes sad intensity and the absurdities of life in a slow burning way.

Tug of war / Mitchell, Jenny
Mark: ‘Tug of War’ is the third album from Jenny Mitchell, a Gore folk/country singer-songwriter, who is now based in Wellington. Her second album, 2018’s release ‘Wildfires’ won a Tui for Recorded Music NZ Best Country Music Artist in 2019. Her follow-up is a sophisticated take on Americana that blends country and folk, with touches of pop. The songs focus on relationships and storytelling, taking on some heavy issues like sexual abuse and mental health in a subtle style. Lead single ‘Trouble Finds a Girl’ is a collaboration with Tami Neilson, so that gives you a starting place in terms of her sound. Reminded me in places of Taylor Swift’s folk period, with its mature song-writing.
Neil: ‘Tug of War’ is the third album from Aotearoa alt-country artist Jenny Mitchell. The largely storytelling Americana tracks are enveloped in a warm blanket of wit and wisdom which she makes very much her own. Sure, you can hear the unapologetic distant echo of Nashville, but there is a deep honesty in the lyrics and the music is both accomplished and sophisticated. Jenny has shared the stage with the likes of Tami Nelson (who duets on one of the albums tracks). It’s an album that reflects an artist with many years’ experiences, and is sure to attract legions of alt-country fans here and further afield.

The spur / Shelley, Joan
Mark: The ninth album from this Kentucky-based singer/songwriter was hailed as a career highpoint, mixing both ’60s folk and old-time country. The songs were written across 2019-2020, as she sat out the pandemic and found out she was going to become a parent, and then recorded when she was seven months pregnant. All of which, naturally, added layers to these songs which dissect the conflicting emotions of uncertainty and renewal, love and hope in turbulent times. The low key intimacy of her vocals and guitar work is enhanced by some later overdubs and flourishes: including horns and cello lines, dobro, some keyboard textures, along with guest vocals from Meg Baird on two tracks and Bill Callahan on one. A timelessly contemplative album that unfolds over multiple listens to reveal its many musical and lyrical depths.
Neil: ‘The Spur’ by Joan Shelley is a country-folk album that operates beyond the limitations of the genre by using a rich variety of sonic textures. It uses the country-folk genre more to inform her work, rather than define it. The lyrics bring to mind on occasion the work of people like Nick Drake or Leonard Cohen, but Joan’s own (often multi tracked) vocals and musical arrangements make these comparisons only passing .’The Spur’ is reflective, elegant, delicate, and beautiful, whilst often retaining an earthy edge .

Sometimes, forever / Soccer Mommy
Mark: Sophie Allison (AKA Soccer Mommy) is part of the 90s revival, alongside artists like Japanese Breakfast, Beabadoobee, Snail Mail, Mitski, Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers etc. ‘Sometimes, forever’ is a follow-up to 2020’s Color Theory, and is full of fuzzy guitars and melodies, and songs that that veer from exhilaration to despair. The layered production sounds amazing, and is full of analogue sounds as well as modern electronic touches. It’s hard not to like this blend of shoegazey indie-rock, or doubt the sincerity and musicianship behind it. The lyrics, reflecting the issues facing a young woman of her generation, are perhaps a bit more pointed, but for me, overall, there’s nothing really happening here that hasn’t been done before by any one of a dozen bands from the 90s. Still, if you like her style of melancholy nostalgia, then there’s plenty you will enjoy on her new album.
Neil: Soccer Mommy’s (aka Sophie Allison) third album really mixes it up, and you can tell quickly that she is using the work to explore her own recent dark past. There are moments of indie Jangly pop, synth pop, as well as angst driven shoegaze. ‘My Bloody Valentine’ came to mind in places as well ‘Portishead’ and PJ Harvey. To help her establish these darker experimental elements for this release, Sophie brought in Daniel Lopatin, better known as the musician ‘Oneohtrix Point Never’, and to a large extent the move works well. This sounds like an artist exploring her own dark places, but using her music as a catalyst to move on to a brighter place whilst recognising those darker experiences.

Found light / Veirs, Laura
Mark: The twelfth album from Portland, Oregon-based singer-songwriter Laura Veirs, following on from 2020’s My Echo, and the first following her split from longtime producer-husband Tucker Martine. The resulting album is her first time co-producing and arranging her own songs and, from a technical perspective, her first time recording her guitar and vocals together rather than separately. Both of these things contribute the different feel of this album, with is more intimate, sensory, angular and experimental than her previous work. Lyrically, it resembles an almost journal-esque take on newfound freedom, post break-up reflection, transformation and discovery.
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.

Driven / O’Sullivan, Gilbert
Mark: Gilbert O’Sullivan is a veteran singer-songwriter in the classicist pop style, best known today for his number one, 1972 U.S. smash ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ – which would go on to be used without clearance by rapper Biz Markie in a track which would ignite the legal process around the use of samples. Irish at birth, he spent most of life in England and while at a point in the 70s he was as big a star as Elton John, he faded from popular consciousness in the following decades. Despite lengthy legal battles with a former label/manager, he still created a steady low-key output of Beatles-eque, melodic pop, and with his acclaimed new album ‘Driven’, his 20th, he has cemented a late career renaissance following on from his equally acclaimed 2018 self-titled release. Witty, catchy, lush, playful pop in the vein of Paul McCartney, with a wry Randy Newman-esque take on life’s ironies. If you enjoyed the new album from Brett McKenzie, you’ll find a lot of its influences in this.
Neil: Gilbert O’Sullivan was one of the most successful artists of the 1970’s, indeed he was the number one male singer of 1972, and his remarkable success ran for close on five years with a slew of No. 1 singles and albums. However, a change in the record buying public’s taste, coupled by a protracted lawsuit over royalties which lead a five-year hiatus in his recording, caused his career to lose momentum and decades in the musical wilderness were to follow. However in 2018, decades since his last commercial success, his self-titled album went into the top twenty. This is his 20th album, and it sounds just like it would have if it had been released at the height of his commercial heyday which, for anyone unfamiliar with Gilbert’s oeuvre, think singer-songwriter piano ballads.

September’s new music for Te Awe: Part 3

via GIPHY

Here is part 3 of our new music picks for September. 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…

Rhythm revolution / Djimmy, Ferry
Mark: Ferry Djimmy was a Benin multi-instrumentalist, former schoolteacher, boxer, and friend to Fela Kuti & the Benin President. Given some money by the President to record this album to promote Marxist-Lenin politics to a younger audience, it nonetheless soon disappeared from public consciousness. Only 200 copies would go on to survive a fire, giving it a heady reputation as a lost afrobeat classic. Funky to the bone, it melds James Brown-esque raw soul, garage-rock with militant vibes, organ grooves, and Hendrix-like guitar workouts. It sounds like a tight smoking band, but most of the instruments played were played by Ferry himself. A raw classic, years ahead of its time.
Neil: When Ferry Djimmy was creating his very own version of Afrobeat in the early 1970’s, he was creating something vital. Sure, he was aware of western artists: such as James Brown, Miles Davis, Santana, War, Parliament, and Jimi Hendrix, but he took all these influences and more and forged his own unique sound. What a sound it was: propulsive percussive rhythm and driving screaming guitars, often with funky vibes. Until now his work has never really got a solid release in the West, and you can tell this album has been put together using vintage recordings. Even today, it’s hard to think of artists with such raw urgency. There’s a political side to the work too, but it’s the kinetic musicianship that shines through. He would have been a knockout act to have seen live.

Pre pleasure / Jacklin, Julia
Mark: The mellow Australian indie-folk/pop singer-songwriter is back with her third album, following 2019’s Crushing. Her sweet voice, and general laid back music is less intense than Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen, whom she is often compared to. But the wry narratives of her songs with their reflective lyrics, are full of the kind of pointed insights that Aimee Mann was renowned for. A mix of jaded and dreamy, rollicking & introspective, the more sophisticated instrumentation is nicely balanced to not overpower her vulnerable confessional songwriting.
Neil: ‘Pre Pleasure’ is a collection of understated and empathetic songs from Australian singer songwriter Julia Jacklin. Some are looking inward at her own life, whilst others are more observational songs about others, but filtered through her own lens. The accompanying musical arrangements are stripped back to the essentials placing the emphasis firmly on Julia’s voice and lyrics, both of which are strong enough to support the focus. The album takes its time to slowly unwind on the listener and weave its own brand of drifty magic.

Death of the party / Magic Gang
Mark: Brighton indie pop quartet The Magic Gang debuted in 2018 with a self-titled album full of simple, Beach Boys harmony filled guitar pop similar to The Blossoms, a catchy if somewhat slight album. For 2020’s ‘Death of the party’ they change things around a bit, resulting in a more ambitious effort. Elements of synthy pop, Northern Soul, Motown, Big-Band horns, and lush 70s grooves fill up the album with an effervescent variety that their debut lacked, to create a smooth sophisticated timeless sound.
Neil: ‘Death of the party’ is the second release from Brighton indie pop rock outfit The Magic Gang. The album definitely showcases a band in a more creative mood. There is more genre blurring than their first Beach Boys, Beatles influenced album. There are nods to the Northern soul movement, and both classic rock and unsurprisingly Motown. That said, the album mainly falls into the upbeat melodic indie pop rock category but The Magic Gang are also unafraid to be idiosyncratic and quirky when the album requires. It also contain more gritty lyrical content than on their first release.

Up and away / Stella
Mark: Σtella is Greek indie pop artist Stella Chronopoulo and this, her 4th album, is her first on the Sub Pop label. An intriguing mix of traditional Greek folk-inflected elements & instruments (Bouzouki & Kanun feature) give the album a mysterious dreamy European feel, while the songs themselves evoke a 60s throwback vibe that reminded me a bit of early Saint Etienne. Relaxing and mesmerizing in equal measures, a lovely mix of the foreign and the familiar, evoking a cool sophisticated, swinging, Athens of the past.
Neil: Stella has been known in her native country of Greece for some time. Her music could be described as idiosyncratic dreamy synth pop, but with a veneer of Traditional Greek folk music to really make it distinctively hers. This is her first release on the major Sub Pop label, and the influence of European music has very much come to the fore especially The Greek folk-pop revival of the late 60’s and 70’s. There is also some very slick and smooth 21st century production going on thanks to producer Redinho.

The ghost of Santiago / Finn, Tim
Mark: The 2nd remote collaboration between Tim Finn & Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, following on from 2021’s Caught By The Heart. They first met in Sydney in 1975, when Roxy were on their first Australian tour, became friends and have remained in contact ever since. Finn is 70, and Manzanera 71 at this point, and neither has anything to prove. Their collaborations aren’t the later day projects of aging musos, with redone versions of old hits and famous cameos, but rather just two musicians going wherever takes their musical fancy. This is art for art’s sake, the album wanders through experimental sketches: pure pop, to moody lusher tracks that all aim to evoke a Latin flair. Fado singer Sonia Bernardo adds some jazzy touches as she duets with Finn on three songs. So, while there’s nothing revelatory here, it’s interesting overall with some standout tracks. The production is also amazingly cohesive, given they never met in person.
Neil: ‘The ghost of Santiago’ is the second collaborative effort between Tim Finn and Phil Manzanera. It started life as a no fixed plan project during lockdown whilst the duo were 12,000 miles apart, such are the wonders of modern technology. This latest outing contains ten songs selected from many more. There is a free-wheeling artistic freedom at play here, with songs displaying a wide variety of styles: from classical to pop, indie, and even touches of prog. If you are a fan of the Crowded House singer songwriter or the Roxy Music composer guitarist, it’s well worth a listen.

Giant palm / Bock, Naima
Mark: The former member of Goat Girl strikes out on her own with this impressive solo debut, mixing baroque folk elements with lush arrangements and over 30 instrumentalists. This is a long way from the fuzzy, political, post-punk of Goat Girl: with it’s soaring harmonies and almost orchestral feel, strings, organs and woodwinds, as well as nods to Jazz, and her childhood in Brazil. The ability to make the traditional sounding aspects of this fit with her modern worldview are what makes this one of the most distinctive releases this year. Sure to be on plenty of the ‘Best Of 2022’ lists.
Neil: Formerly of the band ‘Goat Girl’, Naima Bock sets out on her own (ably supported by producer Joel Burton and a whole raft of musicians). The album feels, at first listen, loose limbed and laid back in a folk singer-songwriter type of way. Closer listening reveals layers of instrumentation, meticulously crafted into each track in a very subtle way. It is a breakup album of sorts and melancholic in places, whilst also happy to expand its emotional palette when necessary.

Colder streams / Sadies
Mark: ‘Colder Streams’, the 11th full-length studio release for the Canadian alt-country band The Sadies, was the last for guitarist, singer/songwriter Dallas Good, who passed away in February 2022. A Canadian indie-rock institution formed by brothers Dallas & Travis Good, the band melded bluegrass country, surf-rock, folk, garage and ’60s psychedelia into a seamless musical blend for 25 years. A fitting tribute to their long career, this album was hailed as some of their best work; a tightly performed, energetic, diverse sounding album full of autumnal reflections on mortality, reaching out for help, and the undertrain times we live in.
Neil: This is the 11th album from the Toronto psychedelic Americana band ‘The Sadies’, known for their legendary live shows. It is also, tragically, the last to feature co-founder singer songwriter Dallas Good who passed recently. ‘Colder Streams’ is arguably the best album of all their releases. The band have expanded and refined their own sound, but more importantly, included some of their live vitality. For anyone who has never heard them before, ‘The Sadies’ perform their own brand of surf, country, and most noticeably psychedelic rock. Before passing, Dallas penned his own tongue in cheek “anti-bio’” of the album which says it all – “Colder Streams is, by far, the best record that has ever been made by anyone. Ever.”

Box Set Pick:
American epic
Mark: A 100-track, 5-CD box set of American roots music performances from the 1920s and 1930s, compiled by film director Bernard MacMahon to accompany the release of his American Epic documentary film series, which took ten years to research. This accompanying Box Set was voted ‘Reissue of the Year’ by Rolling Stone upon its release in 2017. New sound restoration techniques developed for the film production were utilized to restore the 100 songs on the album, some of which were repressed from their original metal parts. It all creates an amazing sound quality for tracks recorded by rural folk & blues artists as far back as the 1920s. Each CD is themed by an ‘area’ of the USA, and then by the cities that featured prominently during the formative years of American music. There is some crossover with tracks and artists, but this is definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, as this is a much larger and more multicultural look at America’s musical history, with more Spanish, Latin-American & Native-American representation.
Neil: A remarkable collection of original recordings, many of them close to ninety years old . Featuring one hundred songs over five CD’s, it is a really well named box set, as ‘Epic’ is the only word for it. Just to give the smallest of flavours: there’s period blues, folk, country, Cajun, Jug band, gospel, Tex-mex and old-time folk as well as native American tracks and Hawaiian tracks. The list of artists featured is just as impressive. It’s an incredibly rich release. Many of the original beating hearts of American music are contained within these CD’s and, in many senses, it is also a historical document, a form of musical archaeology that has uncovered much of the DNA of American music from almost every genre.

September’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 2…

Here is Part 2 of our new Music Picks for September. 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…

Happy hour / Cook, Hollie
Mark: The 4th album from UK reggae singer Hollie Cook, following 2018’s Vessel of Love, is a mellow, sensual update on the ‘Lovers Rock’ reggae subgenre, of which she is a prime proponent. The lovely lilting vibes and melodic songs with their dreamy romantic atmosphere often hide some darker lyrics of heartbreak and isolation, amongst all the upbeat rhythms. If you like this check out the recent Soul Jazz compilation Life Between Islands: Soundsystem Culture – Black Musical Expression 1973-2006.

Neil: ‘Happy hour’ by Hollie Cook is an album which falls into the reggae sub sphere of Lovers’ Rock. Lover’s Rock is a sub-genre of reggae more delicate and poppy in touch than, say, roots Reggae, and more often concerned with matters of the heart than politics or Rasta theology. It is also a reggae outcrop where female musicians have shone brightly. This is Londoner Hollie Cook’s fourth album, and in it she refines and expands on her previous work as one of the brightest exponents of the genre, and delivers an enjoyable swooningly romantic album. Reggae with a very different vibe.

Dear Scott / Head, Michael
Mark: I have to admit I had never heard of Michael Head before, but this album got almost universal acclaim from a variety of critics. A cult Liverpool musician, and the guiding force behind bands The Pale Fountains & Shack, his career has been derailed by personal problems and dependencies, but has had a late solo resurgence with 2017’s Adiós Señor Pussycat, and now this follow up. He is definitely a classicist singer/songwriter in that post-Beatles style, and there’s a ‘Brit-Pop’ vibe to a lot of this, as well as Byrdisian folk, and some LA West Coast stylings, with its jangly guitar-meets symphonic pop sound. ‘Dear Scott’ is a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald, and he throws in some literary references, amongst the fractured dreams in these engaging, rambling, yet always melodic, narratives.

Neil: Liverpool troubadour Michael Head has been a notable cult figure on the music scene for nearly forty years. From time to time his profile threatens to break through but then fades back. ‘Dear Scott’, is his ninth album the music is influenced by the US West Coast sound of the early 70’s, and there are touches of The Byrd’s esp. during their country and western phase. That said, the album is very much his own. Perhaps a better clue is the album title, taken from a letter by F Scott Fitzgerald to himself about evergreen love viewed from the perspective of someone down on their luck.

Will of the people / Muse
Mark: More catchy synth-pop on Muse’s 9th, a loose concept album, where people rise up against the threats to democracy and the planet that come from the ruling political structures. The big baroque Queen-esque riffs sometimes feel like they should be on a Weezer parody album, but nonetheless they manage to balance the bombastic-ness of it all, with some semi-serious commentary on the state of the world, while also being a fun listen.

Neil: ‘Will of the people’ is the ninth outing from the stadium straddling bemouth that is the band Muse. Over the years their albums and spectacular shows have gathered them legions of fiercely loyal and passionate fans. This latest outing can loosely be described as a concept album mainly about rebelling against a dystopian society, a theme they have explored in the past. The genres employed to get the message across vary widely, from glam rock and anthemic Queen influenced ballads, to hard rock and even 80’s disco. It is almost certain to please fans, and makes for a perfect soundtrack to a huge stadium event. For this reviewer however it didn’t quite gel, the stitches holding the various elements together being too obvious.

Songs without jokes / McKenzie, Bret
Mark: This album from Flight of the Conchords star Bret McKenzie has been in gestation for a while, pitched as a ‘Not Funny’ solo Sub Pop label debut where he reinvents himself as a ‘serious’ musician. But while this is a an album of of very well crafted & catchy songs that verge from country-ish rock to synthy pop, to LA singer-songwriter, and he tackles some weighty material, it’s not actually entirely without humour in places. A lot of it has a wry, sardonic, take on life reminiscent of classicist songcraft from people like Randy Newman, Tom Petty or Harry Nilsson. Recorded mostly in LA, he’s backed by a crack group of session musicians that breathe a warmth into these narratives.

Neil: Oscar winning Bret McKenzie is a World-famous artist who really needs no introduction. ‘Songs without jokes’ is a real departure for him, in that as the title states the songs contained in it are not comedic in any sense. To ditch such a key component of his previous works is brave indeed, and the result proves without any doubt that he has more than enough talent required to create an excellent genuine and serious album. He employs his unique unmistakeable vocal style to great effect, evoking a range of songwriter styles from the past such as Randy Newman, with pitch perfect backing. If there is any weakness in the album it is perhaps that he wears these influences too heavily to make the album sound truly his own.

The painter / Orbit, William
Mark: The hugely successful 90s dance-pop-electronica crossover artist & producer returns with his first album since 2014. Plenty of long tracks reach for a chill-out vibe with the help of singers like Katie Melua and longtime collaborator Beth Orton, along with a slew of others. Full of gauzy, atmospheric beats and swirling vocals it’s a showcase of pleasant, ambient electro-pop. Orbit fell into some creative hard times and bad habits after his heyday, and the somewhat mixed reviews of this release perhaps reflect a disappointment that he has strictly played it safe here. There aren’t any edges to this, but it’s a lovingly constructed slice of comforting electro-pop.

Neil: William Orbit’s descent into what he himself described as his “rock n roll excess thing” ended with him being committed to a psychiatric hospital, unable to create music for the past eight years. So, it really is fantastic to hear a new album from him. That said, the piece is more a collaborative effort, with a host of great guests such as Lido Pimienta and Katie Melua bringing their own talents to the table. The result is a kaleidoscopic album of many threads, but overarching them all is a super chilled ambient atmosphere. An album to float and luxuriate in.

Oghneya / Ferkat Al Ard
Mark: Another great album from the Habibi Funk label with this release from the legendary Lebanese singer-songwriter, guitarist and composer Issam Hajali’s Ferkat Al Ard group. A cult album within the Arab music world, it’s a surprising and amazing sounding meeting of Arabic jazz, folk and Brazilian Bossa Nova & Tropicalia. There are so many elements at play here it’s hard to keep track of it all, with elements of Baroque Pop to Psych-Folk merging with Brazilian styles, and cinematic Jazz. Today Brazil has the largest Lebanese diaspora in the world and this music, released in the late 70s, is part of what’s now seen as Beirut’s cosmopolitan golden age, where musicians from all over the world came to play in Beirut nightclubs. A document of the deep links between Lebanon & Brazil, but more importantly, just great sounding music.

Neil: Regular readers of this Blog will know of our liking of the Habibi Funk record label, which specialises in reissues of long-lost musical gems from the Arab world. ‘Oghneya’ is another wonderful re-issue from them, a beautiful work steeped in Palestinian poetry with heartfelt melancholic songs. The music contains elements of light jazz, and even Brazilian music, lush and chilled with a sad soulful heart. Very different but also strangely familiar.

My boy / Williams, Marlon
Mark: NZ’s premiere crooner is back with another mellow album of stately pop, with a new contemporary twist. After spending his lockdown absorbing some classic and modern synth pop from the likes of Duran Duran to Perfume Genius, he added some of these new influences to his previous template of country-esque Orbison/Gene Pitney crooning. Washes of bleeping synths, wozzy wurlitzers, slinky beats, nods to 80s synth pop & The Beach Boys all add different shades to his musical aesthetic. While perhaps not as much of an ‘artistic’ statement as his 2 previous acclaimed albums, he still digs into themes of gender and masculinity, friendship and sex, while making it all just a bit more fun and danceable.

Neil: On ‘My boy’ the wonderfully gifted Marlon Williams largely steps away from his country past. Instead embracing the world of 70’s and 80’s soft melodic pop. The songs are superbly executed and, whilst firmly in the pop world, they do have an emotional gravity about them. To summarise: sun dappled synth pop, with a good feel vibe about it and occasional moments of lovelorn wistfulness from one of New Zealand’s leading musicians.

The big exercise / Homesick
Mark: The Homesick are a Dutch indie band, mixing pop and post-punk, and ‘The Big Exercise’ was their 2020 Sub Pop label debut, following on from 2017’s Youth Hunt, which was a big success in Europe and scored them an American record deal. A mix of strong melodic vocal interplay, fused with some psychedelic elements, with Krautrock & Beach Boys/High Llamas touches. The pastoral harmonies that lead the album off soon give way to tracks that are densely layered with different elements, which have a much more avant-garde bent than you might think, given the overall indie pop feel of the album. An fun album with a lot to it that’s never less than interesting to listen to, and on occasion very good. Definitely worth a listen if you appreciate the more ‘cerebral’ bands around at the moment like Black Country, New Road, Dry Cleaning or Squid, with their wonky time signatures and key changes.

Neil: Dutch post punk band The Homesick release their second album and their first on a major label. Again, their interest in pastoral both lyrically and aesthetically is present , but this time it really feels like the band have taken the opportunities that a major label offers, and they have really expanded their sound and musical intentions and ambitions. In short, The Big Exercise is their statement of intent. In places the music reminded me of Fleet Foxes, but with those post punk shifts in dynamic or lyrically someone like a less obtuse Van Dyke Parks.

Schumann and Psathas in Orchestra Wellington’s Circle of Friends

In this post Corrina, one of the librarians from our Te Awe Library, explores some of the music featuring in Saturday night’s Orchestra Wellington concert at the Michael Fowler Centre, focusing on John Psathas’s new concerto ‘Leviathan’, and Robert Schumann’s ‘Symphony No. 2 in C major’, and exploring some of the books and recordings in our collection that may enrich our readers’ responses to the music of these two remarkable composers.

John Psathas’s ‘Leviathan’ is the second of his works for orchestra and solo percussion to be featured in Orchestra Wellington’s 2022 season, following a performance of his All-Seeing Sky earlier this year.

Leviathan, which was commissioned by Tonhall Dusseldorf GmbH in 2020 as part of the Beethoven 250th Anniversary Year and the Beethoven Pastoral Project, received its world premiere in October 2021 with the Berlin Radio Symphony, soloist Alexej Gerassimez (also the dedicatee of ‘Leviathan’), and conductor Markus Poschner. You can read more about the conception behind ‘Leviathan’ – and its connections with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 – in Psathas’s own words here. Gerassimez will be the soloist at the New Zealand premiere of Leviathan here in Wellington.

We hold a variety of recordings and scores of Psathas’s works, including:


View from Olympus / Psathas, John
Three of Psathas’s best-known works – Omnifenix, View from Olympus, Three Psalms – performed by outstanding soloists Joshua Redman, Lance Philips, Pedro Carneiro, and Michael Houstoun, with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and conductor Marc Taddei.

Gyftiko : violin / Psathas, John
This is a beautifully produced Promethean Editions score of Psathas’s 2011 piece for solo violin Gyfitiko, commissioned by the Michael Hill International Violin Competition.

Sleeper : piano / Psathas, John
A minimalist yet explosive work for solo piano, Sleeper was composed for a recital by Stephen de Pledge at the 2008 New Zealand International Festival of the Arts.

Beethoven’s music also has a significant presence in Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C major. Schumann began work on his second symphony, possibly motivated by hearing a performance of another work in C major, Schubert’s Symphony No. 9. Schumann’s ‘symphonic thoughts’ began to translate themselves into musical sketches, but it took almost a year for him to complete and orchestrate the Symphony, before its premiere in Leipzig’s Gewandhaus on 5 November 1846.

Berliner Philharmoniker Sir Simon Rattle / Schumann, Robert

The Symphony includes allusions to other composers, especially Beethoven and J. S. Bach. Following the quiet fanfare that opens the Symphony, Schumann writes Bach’s name into the music (using the notes BACH or B-flat, A, C, B-natural). Later, in the Symphony’s fourth and final movement, Schumann introduces a new – but somehow familiar melody – halfway through: a quotation of the final song in Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved). In Beethoven’s song, this music sets the words:
‘Nimm sie hin denn, diese Lieder / Accept, then, these songs
Die ich dir, Geliebte, sang / I sang for you, beloved.

Such ciphers and hidden messages are a recurring feature in Schumann’s music, and this was not the first time Schumann had made a musical connection with An die ferne Geliebte in one of his own pieces: his op. 17 Fantasie for solo piano also contains a fleeting reference to Beethoven’s song cycle. Such subtle allusions to the music of Schumann’s composer-heroes formed a fundamental role in the realisation of his aesthetic and creative ideals.

Schumann : the faces and the masks / Chernaik, Judith
This 2018 biography of Schumann by one of the leading contemporary Schumann scholars illustrates with enticing detail the links between Schumann’s music and his literary interests that helped him to realise his ambition to be a ‘poet of tones’. Cherniak also explores in compelling detail Schumann’s relationship with Clara Wieck, the outstanding pianist who would become his wife, his interactions with other composers, and his responses to the musical events of the day. Cherniak’s command of her subject and her accessible writing style make this a very readable study of Robert Schumann.

Schumann / Schumann, Robert
This 2014 recording on the Naïve label offers three works by Schumann, his Abegg Variations, op. 1, his Kinderszenen, op 15, and the Fantasie, Op. 17 that includes an illusion to Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte. Lisa de La Salle’s interpretation of these early piano pieces by Schumann offers performances that are idiomatic and idiosyncratic. In her performance, de la Salle’s approach to Schumann’s articulation emphasises the eccentric humour of Schumann’s music in ways that other pianists have smoothed over. Reactions to this recording have differed wildly, but de La Salle illustrates the complexities of Schumann’s personality and aesthetics in a thought-provoking style.

Robert Schumann : herald of a “new poetic age” / Daverio, John
Exploring Schumann’s early desire to be a writer, then his quest to become a virtuoso pianist, and finally his pursuit of composition and music criticism, Daverio’s study blends biography with analysis of a variety of representative musical works. In particular, Daverio offers a compelling and readable portrait of a composer and writer who sought to realise the poetic spirit of Romanticism in mid-nineteenth-century music.

The symphonies / Schumann, Robert
All four of Schumann’s complete symphonies – including the 1851 version of his Symphony No. 4 – with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin provide a lively portrait of the composer as a symphonist. The smaller forces instrumental of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe sound crisp and sprightly throughout and lend this music a clarity that may initially seem unsettling when we are more accustomed to performances by full-sized symphony orchestras. Nézet-Séguin’s approach is energetic, his tempos sometimes breathlessly swift, but the orchestra’s ability and artistry are more than equal to their conductor’s demands in this 2012 recording.

September’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 1


via GIPHY

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

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

The girl from Chickasaw County / Gentry, Bobbie
Mark: Bobbie Gentry is an iconic, enigmatic, cult country-pop singer, and one of the first female artists to compose and produce her own material. She retired completely from music in the early 80s, after a run of successful albums from the late 60s to the late 70s, and has not recorded, performed or been interviewed since then. This new compilation collects 2 CDs worth of highlights from her Capitol albums from 1967-1972, an encapsulation of a larger 8CD Box Set released in 2018. A kind of country Dusty Springfield, it’s easy to trace her influence on subsequent country artists and music in general, with her genre-melding mix of swampy southern rhythms with traces of Pop & R&B. The overall mystery surrounding her may never be solved, but the music she left behind continues to enthrall, letting you endlessly pull back its layers in search of some hidden meaning.

Neil: After a spell in Las Vegas in the late 70’s doing her own unique version of an Elvis type stage show, Bobbie Gentry did an American television performance in 1981, and it was to be the last time she was seen in public…. Since that performance she hasn’t performed, released any work, or been interviewed; indeed she has become one of popular music’s great enigmas. Her 1967 chart topping Southern Gothic masterpiece Ode to Billie Joe could be strongly argued as setting the template for the whole genre of Alt country. As an artist she raked up a truly impressive list of hit singles and albums. This compilation represents her musical legacy, and is a revelation in its variety depth and quality. The work of a truly uniquely gifted artist.

Dancing under the moon / Master Musicians of Jajouka
Mark: Jajouka is a village in Northern Morocco, where a collective group of 50 Jbala Sufi trance makers have a mission to spread Jajouka’s 1000 year old musical traditions, which has led to them work with everyone from William Burroughs to Ornette Coleman, to Brian Jones. The musicians split into 2 factions in the 1990s, with this one led by Bachir Attar, who has subsequently recorded with Maceo Parker & Talvin Singh. In 2019, the band recorded these 9 tracks in the Rif mountains, all but one exceeding 10-minutes in length. An intense double album, perhaps digested in small doses, it presents a swirling mayhem of flutes, violins, chats and drums. It’s music that’s almost impossible to describe, at times sounding like atonal free-jazz, at other times like deeply spiritual meditative hymns. You really have to listen to it yourself. In a fascinating YouTube clip Mick Jagger talks with author Paul Bowles (The sheltering sky) during which they discuss his 1959 journey recording Moroccan musicians, as well as Brian Jones’ recording of The Master Musicians of Jajouka.

Neil: ‘Dancing under the moon’ is a two-hour album of ancient folkloric trance traditions by Jbala Sufi musicians. The music is surprisingly varied and features various multi layered reed instruments and percussive drums, and has direct linkage to Persian and Arcadian musicians and mystics. This tradition was first recorded by Brian Jones and subsequently influenced Ornette Coleman, though these recordings are modern one from 2019. The music is intended to heal psychic wounds and chase away demons, so it is esoteric in nature.

Continue reading “September’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 1”

August’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 3

Here is part 3 of our new music picks for August. 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…

White Jesus black problems / Fantastic Negrito
Mark: When he returned to music in 2014 after a long lay-off, Fantastic Negrito described his new style as “black roots music for everyone”. The multiple Grammy award winners 5th album is another swampy mix of blues, rock and R&B stylings, inspired by learning that his ancestors had a mixed race common law marriage in 1750s Virginia and that he is 27% white. While his Grammy awards were in the Blues, he has long pushed the definition of that genre with previous efforts. This album is even sonically richer, taking in Prince influenced funk, country, gospel, delta-blues and seemingly everything in between. A deeply layered musical and lyrical tribute to his two ancestors whose love prevailed in spite of the brutally repressive times they lived through, the parallels from their time that still exist today, and a glimmer of hope that love and courage can forge a new path to the future.
Neil: ‘White Jesus black problems’ is a heady and emotionally charged album in which Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, aka Fantastic Negrito, uses an investigation into his ancestry as its starting point. The tale he uncovers is troubling and dark, going back to Virginia in 1759 and the slave trade, but there’s also moments of light and redemption to punctuate the darkness. Musically the album is a hybrid of several genres, primarily R&B and funky rock, and the result is an album that musically sounds old school and modern at the same time, with deep and hugely important lyrical content.

Where’s the one / Congotronics International
Mark: A ‘supergroup’ featuring members of Konono Nº1, Kasai Allstars, Deerhoof, Juana Molina, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, and Skeletons’ Matt Mehlan. Congolese guitars with psychedelic rock, and features vocals in Songye language by Kasai Allstars and in English by Mehlan. A sprawling double album of African rhythms mashed up with contemporary edges. Incendiary and intense as dissonance and harmony clash, the music is a manifestation of the collision of styles inherent in a meeting of Western experimental rockers and African musicians.
Neil: : Congotronics International are less a band and more a musical community or collective, with a revolving roster of nineteen musicians. This album is a blend of their high-octane live recordings recorded over several years, but with studio elements included in places. It is an exciting bold and brave, experimental Afrobeat album, with traditional and electronic elements fused into a rapturous infectious high energy piece. At points, the energy levels are so high there is a sense of feverish frenzy to the work. Fabulous stuff.

Neneh Cherry : the versions
Mark: A covers album featuring reworked versions of Neneh Cherry songs by an eclectic group of modern female artists including ANOHNI, Jamila Woods, Sudan Archives, Kelsey Lu, Honey Dijon, Seinabo Sey, Greentea Peng and Tyson, as well as Cherry’s rendition of “Buffalo Stance” with Robyn and Mapei. Cherry is really too distinctive a songwriter and performer for this to work as universally well as say the Springsteen covers album we reviewed earlier this month, but I thought this was better than the somewhat patchy reviews implied. The general tone of the covers overall was perhaps a bit too chill and laid back for Cherry aficionados.
Neil: ‘The Versions’ is a ten-track album featuring a range of artists covering Neneh Cherry songs. The re-interpretations are largely done as smooth and at times vibrant pop songs, to the highest of technical and production levels. It is an interesting approach and many will really enjoy it, but for me smoothing out the edgy, rebellious, nature of the originals was a mistake and weakens the songs. To decide which side you’re on, listen to this release then Neneh’s 1989 album Raw like Sushi and decide which you prefer.

Te kaahu o rangi / Te Kaahu
Mark: Te Kaahu is the te reo Māori project of Em Walker, whose other musical persona is Theia, and ‘Te kaahu o rangi’ is a beautiful exploration of her Māori heritage. A series of lovely, lilting, acoustic based tunes that sonically hark back to the 40’s and 50’s. Sunny Pacific/Hawaiian vibes meld with traditional uplifting Maori waiata, and her gorgeous harmony vocals delivering positive messages of peace, love and self-care, along with hope and support to young women.
Neil: Te kaahu o rangi is a collection of te reo Māori songs that channel traditional singer-songwriter structure and melodies into a place grounded in whakapapa. It is a fresh and interesting take on alt pop. The songs cover a wide range of uplifting themes: hope and healing, peace and love. Te Kaahu’s dreamy vocals are placed very much in the centre of the mix, with the musical backing perfectly supporting each songs various sentiments, while the music itself is romantic: warm, sunny with golden slightly nostalgic undertones, firmly rooted in pop.

I’m the sky : studio and demo recordings, 1964-1971 / Tanega, Norma
Mark: Cultish folk singer who never quite made it to a household name, despite being hugely talented. She had a hit single “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog”, was closely associated with Dusty Springfield for a number of years (and wrote a lot of material for her), but is perhaps best known now for the track “You’re Dead”, which became the theme song of the film & TV show What We Do in the Shadows. ‘I’m the Sky’ combines tracks from her 2 studio albums, an unreleased album, along with some unheard demos. Her idiosyncratic nature sets her apart from the more traditional folk artists active at that time, and these whimsical, moody, gentle tracks with simple, catchy arrangements and slightly new-agey lyrics are worthy of rediscovery.
Neil: Norma Tanega was one of those artists who was perilously close to becoming a huge star. Her record label just didn’t know what to do with her, and she had a reluctance to enter and take the star making machine seriously. This compilation showcases her pioneering, experimental hippy folk singer-songwriter talents off to great advantage. Norma’s songs are rich and complex in their lyrical content, if rooted a little in their time of creation (there’s a hint of patchouli oil and the flower power generation around several of the tracks). For reference, if you like very early Joni Mitchell or Vashti Bunyan there is a strong possibility you would like this. Norma went on to write songs for the likes of Dusty Springfield, switched her musical focus to becoming a percussionist and had an alternative creative outlet as a painter. In a different reality we would be very familiar with her creative output already.

Home, before and after / Spektor, Regina
Mark: Spektor’s latest album, her 8th in total and first in 6 years, shifts from the arty tendencies of her previous work to a more pop feel. The songs have an overall symphonic feel to them, shifting from soft piano backing to a lush sound reminiscent of Jon Brion era Fiona Apple. Alternating from pathos to humour, her lyrics with their sometimes funny takes on life, love and relationships, anchor the big swirling crescendos of the music, unfolding the stories within like a warm blanket to comfort you.
Neil: Regina Spektor’s previous albums have a definite art punk feel to them and, whilst that is still present here on ‘Home, before and after’, there is definitely a more widescreen musical background to these songs. The album features sweeping string arrangements, Regina’s classical training is very evident in places. A lot of her previous albums also have life, death, and love at their lyrical core, and whilst this album does also, there is a more relaxed haunting quality to the lyrics and her vocal approach. This album is perhaps her most directly approachable vocal delivery so far, and a very different release from the artist that shows a desire to change.

The alien coast / St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Mark: St. Paul and The Broken Bones are an Alabama eight-piece soul band that have been around for a while, releasing four albums and two EPs. Their latest album ‘The alien coast’ is full of slinky, funky propulsive soul helmed by the powerhouse vocals of lead singer Paul Janeway. This isn’t just another retro-soul album, as the music shifts in too many contemporary directions for that, with experimental elements, post-funk, psychedelic and space-rock touches. ‘Apocalyptic dance grooves…’ sings lead singer Janeway in one of the tracks, and that’s pretty much what this sounds like with its eerie, haunting tracks. Like Al Green fronting a soul band at the end of the world…
Neil: While still drawing on their musical roots and inspirations in stoner metal, psychedelia funk and especially soul music, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, the eight-piece outfit from Birmingham, Alabama, have still found their own creative evolutionary path in “The alien coast”. The lyrics blur lines too, wavering between sleep and wakefulness and delivering a surrealist apocalyptic uneasy vibe. The result is an innovative, bold and exciting genre spanning soul work.

Box Set Pick:
The rock box 1973-1979 : the complete recordings / Quatro, Suzi
Mark: Once viewed as an embarrassing genre best forgotten, ‘glam rock’ has enjoyed a bit of a critical resurgence in the last decade or so with several dedicated box sets (Oh yes we can love: a history of glam rock, Can the glam! : 80 glambusters : rockers, shockers and teenyboppers from the 70s) and some serious music criticism dissecting its influence on fashion, theatre, film and contemporary music (Glam rock: dandies in the underworld, Shock and awe: glam rock and its legacy : from the seventies to the twenty-first century). Suzi Quatro was the ‘Queen of Glam’, an overlooked female trailblazer in music, until the critically acclaimed 2019 documentary Suzi Q firmly staked her place in music history. Now she is the subject of a multi-disc retrospective, ‘The Rock Box’, which compiles her 6 studio albums and a live album from 1973 to 1979, along with a bunch of bonus singles & B-Sides, as well as a accompanying booklet with commentaries from Suzi herself on each album. There are a lot of classic tracks here, from covers to many of her overlooked originals. She would influence everyone from Joan Jett, to Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads) to Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), and this box is fitting testament to that legacy.
Neil: Suzi Quatro was one of the superstars of the glam rock era, along with bands like T-Rex and Sweet. During that time she had a string of chart-topping singles like “Can the Can” and “Devil Gate Drive”. However, Suzi Quatro’s music is more closely akin to Hard Rock, and has strong roots in the original 1950’s rock n’ roll sound – a fact picked up by the producers of the American 50’s nostalgia TV comedy “Happy Days” who cast her as Leather Tuscadero, a musician from that time. As well as being a 70’s superstar, Quatro was a pioneering musician in the world of rock at a time when it was an almost exclusively male dominated preserve. This box set contains all her releases from, as the Pet Shop Boys would say, “her imperial phase” and includes all her biggest hits and the works she is best known for, as well as lots of other equally interesting songs. If this box set fits the bill, check out ‘Suzi Q’, the fabulous film that charts this trailblazing American rock singers’ career.

Staff Picks: CDs & Vinyl

Here are some new, and older, CDs & Vinyl that our Library staff have enjoyed listening to recently.

Gus’ Picks:

 

 

 

 

Most of my musical discoveries this year can be put under the banner of “female-fronted 80s/90s genre-revival art-pop”. Wet Leg’s debut self-titled album (favourite track: Chaise Longue) more than lived up to the hype, with their varied Britpop-esque guitar-heavy tunes about small-town woes and young love. Australian singer Hatchie’s recent album Giving the World Away (favourite track: The Rhythm) and Mitski’s Laurel Hell (favourite track: The Only Heartbreaker) was a nice throwback to the kind of college rock and heavily-produced bubblegum pop of the 90s that I was cutting my teeth on as a burgeoning Top 40 listener. My advice to future artists: if you can somehow blend The Cranberries with Sugababes, I’ll be your fan forever.

Martin’s Pick:
The tipping point / Tears For Fears
If you liked Tears for Fears in the 80s/90s, the big sound, the big voice of Roland Orzabal and the anthemic large scale songs, then 2022 is a good year for you. It’s easy to wallow in the familiar comfort of a well-loved sound but often the ‘new stuff’ of perennial groups, seems like a lesser pastiche of the original that you loved long ago. Those ‘old’ groups that are now old but still churning it out. So you will definitely get that from ‘The Tipping Point’. It’s familiar, there’s the same beats, the same build-up of songs and the same signature sound, but it is very well done. I thought The Seeds of Love was a good album (that’s 1989!!) but with a little too Beatlesy. The Tipping Point has the same feel as Songs from the Big Chair, often quite bombastic, but it’s the tiny details of sounds and the lush flow that takes you along. Orzabal’s voice is still powerful and subtle when needed and there is a good mix of the loud and soft. ‘Stay Don’t Stay’ shows Orzabal’s tone and rhythm, while ‘River’s of Mercy’ is so Tears For Fears and a beautiful song. ‘End of Night’ is punchy and ‘Break the Man’ sounds like a sure fire single. So at the moment I’m loving a return to form.

Mark’s Pick:
Hi / Texas (Musical group)
Someone stole the first copy we bought of this before it even went out, so I guess there is at least one other fan of this band still out there. Texas originated in the 80s, and basically dabbled in multiple genres (the Americana of their 1989 debut ‘Southside’, the electro-pop of 1997’s ‘White on Blonde’, the soul stylings of 1999’s Hush, collaborations with rappers like Wu-Tang Clan) before all those things became hardened into the retro classicism of today’s music. Similarly to fellow 80s band Sade, they don’t tour much, and seem to have no interest in reissuing their back-catalogue albums as Deluxe or Anniversary issues, so you tend to forget they are actually still around until they put out a new album. Originally this started as a rare archival project, featuring an albums worth of unreleased tracks from their ‘comeback’ album ‘White on Blonde’. In the course of this they found 3 songs which were only half-finished, decided to complete them, and then inspired by the older material wrote a bunch of new songs. The tracks range from disco influences, to folk, country, & synthy 80s sounds, and are mostly upbeat, with the addition of a few heavier ballads that were added post lockdown and following the sudden passing of singer Sharleen Spiteri’s mother. There’s a co-write with Richard Hawley, Clare Grogan from Altered Images duets on “Look What You’ve Done”, and the Wu-Tang Clan and Ghostface Killah feature on “Hi”. There’s a timeless quality to their intelligent and well-crafted pop music, as well as the maturing emotional resonance of Spiteri’s lovely voice, that make this the kind of soothing pop music that always puts you in a better mood.

Continue reading “Staff Picks: CDs & Vinyl”

August’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 2

Here is Part 2 of our new Music Picks for August. 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…

Songbird : a solo collection / McVie, Christine
Mark: Christine McVie’s solo career outside of Fleetwood Mac always gained less attention than that of fellow bandmates Stevie Nicks & Lindsey Buckingham. The 10 songs in this collection (5 from “In the Meantime” (2004), 2 from “Christine McVie” (1984), 2 unreleased songs, and “Songbird” – which uses the vocals from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (1977) with a new orchestral arrangement) may not have the immediate pop impact of tracks like ‘Stop draggin’ my heart around’ or ‘Countdown’, but they showcase the classicist songcraft that underpinned her tenure with Fleetwood Mac. Her soothing voice floats over a seemingly effortless display of warm, glossy, melodies, making you wish she had devoted more time to her solo career instead of her band.

Neil: Christine McVie is, of course, best known for her work with Fleetwood Mac, and though there are connections to this body of work this compilation mainly focuses its attention on her two solo albums the 1984 self-titled ‘Christine McVie’ and her 2004 album ‘In the Meantime’. The songs featured are largely remixes from these sources and, as you would expect, are gorgeous, warm, and full of optimism in a very Christine McVie fashion. The album might have been even richer though if the compilers had spread their net further, and selected solo outings from a wider pallet of recordings.

Mississippi son / Musselwhite, Charlie
Mark: The Grammy award-winning blues icon returns to his roots for his first new solo studio release in seven years, featuring six covers and eight new originals. Mississippi born, his connection with the form is real. Now an elder statesman, he was part of the original 60s Blues revival in Chicago befriending John Lee Hooker and others, and on this half acoustic guitar and half electric with band, Musselwhite serves up a dish of swampy back porch delta blues. As he says in one of these tracks ‘The Blues tells the Truth…’ and these tunes are authentic and un-romanticised digs into real life, leavened by his honest & soulful voice.

Neil: A shuffling Mississippi blues album from the Grammy award winning Charlie Musselwhite. Charlie Musselwhite rose to fame during the second wave of Blues in the 60’s and 70’s, a legendary Bluesman with fifty years’ experience and over 40 albums to his name, not to mention a plethora of awards. This release is a joyous straight down the line raw country-blues album, that heavily features his golden baritone voice. You can tell he is enjoying himself on this release, and is just letting it rip.

If you will / Purim, Flora
Mark: ‘If You Will’ is the first studio release in 15 years by Brazilian Jazz icon Flora Purim, who turned 80 this year. The album mixes reworkings of classic material from her back catalogue with new material, helped out by both her daughter on vocals & her husband on percussion, along with her son-in-law, and other longtime collaborators. The comfortable musical surrounding they create lets her deliver a masterclass in Bossa-Jazz, full of Fusion & prog rock touches, looping rhythms, melodic songs, tasteful solos & crisp clean production. This musical journey through her career shows that, while steeped in a certain time, there is a joyful timelessness to this music.

Neil: One of the most celebrated voices in Brazilian music celebrates her 80th birthday in style, with her first album in 15 years, inviting musical friends and family to the celebration. If you are unfamiliar with her work, it could be loosely summarised as catchy and infectious Brazilian Jazz, Funk, with cool Latin American rhythms underpinning the tracks.

Big time / Olsen, Angel
Mark: Seventh album from the indie singer-songwriter who has elevated lo-fi garage & vintage Country to echoey chamber-rock heights. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, she sounds somewhat like an amalgam of Mazzy Star, country torch ballads, Lynch-Badalamenti/Julee Cruise, and the reverby retro-stylings of Chris Isaak. The instrumentation is dialed down from the 14-piece orchestra of 2019’s All Mirrors, yet she still manages to create an intimate and lushly baroque sound. Steel guitars, strings and her otherworldly voice tackle the aftermath of grief, self discovery, new love, and heartbreak.

Neil: ‘Big Time’ is an album that ebbs and flows, with sections of fluid laid back country influenced music, that rises on occasion to Nashville inspired crescendos that fall back again into that more mellow vibe. It’s a personal album, especially with regards to the vocal delivery and lyrical construction. During its recording Olsen came out as queer and this informs many of the tracks, with songs about grief and love both in the past and the present. It is all delivered in her clear voice that carefully navigates the emotional content of each track.

Endless rooms / Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Mark: The third album from the Melbourne indie rockers, following 2020’s Sideways to New Italy. If you haven’t listened to them before, they mine a jangly indie 1980s college rock sound, early R.E.M meets the Go-Betweens, with some 90s slacker Pavement touches – with an Australian accent. They switch things around a bit this time, with some tracks a bit more dreamy, others a bit more dance-floor, and lyrics a bit more darker, referencing climate change and politics. There’s nothing original about their music really, but they do what they do really well, which is deliver relaxed catchy tunes. Music to listen to while hanging out with friends.

Neil: : Jangly 80’s college rock is obviously on Melbourne band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s radar, though they do take that sound and make it very much their own. With three lead guitarists, and no dedicated lead vocalist, it is unsurprising that the guitars, their sound, and placement are very much to the fore – with the overall guitar sound being of that 80’s underground, jittery wound-up, psychedelica. The shared vocals duties are strong, and while the music has an easy going post-punk feel the songwriting is nuanced, carefully crafted, and concerned with subjects such as environmental destruction in Australia.

Special / Lizzo
Mark: Lizzo is back with hewr 4th album, the follow-up to her Grammy-winning major label debut Cuz I Love You. ‘Special’ is more of her patented swagger, as rap, pop & soul blend into a funky melange about body positivity and acceptance. Musically it plays things a bit safer than her breakout, with a focus on a nostalgic Disco-pop sound, and all the songs about parties seem a bit repetitive. However amongst the grooves there are some intimate and vulnerable moments that make you feel she is still fighting to overcome perceptions, but is full of hope & love and is aiming to be around for many years to come.

Neil: Lizzo is so much more than a musician-singer. She already has her own reality television show and has a rising career in film, not to mention three Grammys so far, and being known as the flutist credited by the Guardian as responsible for “the woodwind resistance”. ‘Special’ is her fourth album, a shiny pop artifact that is worldwide one the highest charting albums of 2022. There are elements of rap, pop, hip hop, R&B and soul, however the predominant musical force here is euphoric disco, often with an 80’s feel. Lizzo has been a victim of body shaming and trolling throughout her career and this album, is in one sense, a riposte to those people with its emphasis on body positivity and self-confidence.

A legacy of rentals / Finn, Craig
Mark: Craig Finn is the frontman for The Hold Steady, and ‘A legacy of rentals’ is his 5th solo album outside of the group. Freed from the template of his band, his solo albums seem to exist to give more ‘voice’ to his story like songs, a series of sharply observed vignettes that wind through the weary lives and limited prospects his protagonists face at this point in American history. The music still occasionally has the larger sound of his band, incorporating a 14-piece string section and the odd sax solo on some tracks. Most, though, are framed around the steady drum machine patterns that form the body of these downbeat sketches, as the characters in the songs remember people who are no longer around, and try to find some peace in the memories. Cassandra Jenkins’ harmony vocals dovetail perfectly on a few tracks, adding to the spiraling intensity of the narratives.

Neil: There are lots of big emotions on Craig Finn’s latest solo outing, and a deep emotional honesty in this work that he doesn’t hide or flinch from, confronting some depressing situations or visiting sad places. However, in these melancholic locations he finds a unique sort of beauty and emotional grandeur. His songwriting and storytelling also has a tenderness, and the 14-piece orchestra present on the album is carefully and sparsely used to great effect.

Kingmaker / Neilson, Tami
Mark: The fifth album for the Canadian-born NZ-based country queen. Since moving here in 2007 she has won numerous NZ awards and is one of a handful of NZ artists, like Nadia Reid or Aldus Harding, whose success has gone global. Latest album ‘Kingmaker’ has an overarching theme of challenges patriarchal structures, both within the music industry, as well as relationships, running through the tracks. It’s full of a widescreen cinematic energy, feeling at times like the soundtrack to female fronted Western where the protagonist runs circles around all the men. Everything stands out equally, from her big voice, to the consummate, empowering songwriting & top-notch arrangements. Country legend Willie Nelson duets on ‘Beyond the Stars’, which will surely be looked back on as a defining fork, as her musical journey continues upwards.

Neil: If you follow music in Aotearoa, it is highly likely you will have come across the phenomenon/force of nature that is Tami Neilson. Her unique brand of country, roots and blues music has been wowing audiences for years. ‘Kingmaker’ sticks to those musical roots, and is another fabulous, strong, and powerful work. It hasn’t got a weak song in the whole album, though her duet with Willie Nelson is unsurprisingly the track that attracts all the attention. We already knew she was a superstar, and if Covid hadn’t come along the rest of the world would know it too. This knockout album will surely change this, and deliver the international recognition she so richly deserves.

August’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 1


via GIPHY

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

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

Say Laura / Chenaux, Eric
Mark: Chenaux is a Toronto-based experimental guitarist & songwriter and on this, his 7th album, he delivers a unique interplay of instrument and voice. Semi-improvisational guitar textures, acoustic as well as processed and treated, meld with his relaxed tenor crooning, and other backing including a Wurlitzer and programmed drum beats. It all creates a kind of avant-pop sound, a strange juxtaposition of the smooth and the rough. Mellow yet full of dissonance, these 5 lengthy pieces don’t always go where you think they will, but always hold your attention.

Neil: ‘Say Laura’ by Eric Chenaux is a unique outing. It could be described as jazz-folk that contains minimalist, but precisely focussed instrumentation. Eric’s voice is smooth and seductive throughout, and it’s this juxtaposition of his voice with instruments such as sparse destabilised guitar that make the album. Despite the sometimes-experimental leanings of the album it’s definitely an eminently listenable and rewarding piece of music.

A light for attracting attention / Smile
Mark: The debut album from Thom Yorke’s latest side project, which features fellow Radiohead member Jonny Greenwood and Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinnner. Some older material, that had been previously played live by Radiohead, sits next to a suite of new mid-tempo tracks that highlight the best elements of Radiohead’s post ‘OK Computer’ output, and the symbiotic creative dynamic between Yorke & Greenwood. These angular tunes focus more on mournful atmosphere than melody as Yorke’s dissects the horrors of the time we live in, climate change & power brokers, while moody synths pulse away behind his falsetto. Elements of Funk, prog & afrobeat feature, as well as a couple of more acoustic/strings ballads that highlight the 2nd half of the album. While being some of the most easily accessible music of all the ‘Radiohead’ side projects and solo albums, this is still a dense & layered album with a lot to take in musically & lyrically, and more will no doubt sink in upon repeated listening. An album that will no doubt be already slotting into critics ‘Best of the year’ lists.

Neil: Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood’s latest side project, like much of Radiohead’s recent work, is informed by uncertainty and creeping unease. Yorke is in superb voice and the bass lines and spiky electronica, unsurprisingly, sound like a full-blown Radiohead outing, with some of the album’s lyrics even directly referencing Radiohead tracks and albums. That said, it’s brilliant stuff, with that shifting balance between musical and personal chaos and structure continually explored throughout the piece.

Dolenz sings Nesmith / Dolenz, Micky
Mark: Micky Dolenz’s first new solo studio album in nine years was this 2021 tribute to his fellow Monkee Michael Nesmith, who would pass away later that year. Produced and arranged by Nesmith’s oldest son Christian, it takes a modern approach to these tunes, changing the tempos on some classic tracks while still aiming for deference & respect towards the originals. From synth based arrangements to heavy rock and psychedelica, Dolenz’s 76 year old voice rises to every style with a seemingly effortless energy. A great album that now serves as a fitting tribute.

Neil: This album is an interesting outing, in that both musicians are best known for being members of the 60’s manufactured boy-band The Monkees, who eventually cast of their corporate restraints to follow their own creative stars. This album is an affectionate and great tribute from Dolenz to his close friend and bandmate Nesmith. It is vintage pop, but it’s also sharp and crisp and fresh sounding. My fav track on the album is ‘Circle Sky’ from their Jack Nicholson directed movie Head with its hippy era sitar energetically reinvigorating the song.

Whatever you want : Bob Crewe’s 60s soul sounds
Mark: Crewe was a songwriter-producer best known for his string of Top 10 singles for the group Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, that he co-wrote with band member Bob Gaudio. The Four Seasons were one of the best-selling musical groups of all time, having sold an estimated 100 million records worldwide, but Crewe also produced numerous other artists from white pop to doo-wop & Black R&B artists like Ben E King, Chuck Jackson, Jerry Butler and Barbara Lewis. This entry in Ace Records ‘Producers’ series gathers up these tracks & more for another classy overview full of soulful cuts.

Neil: During the 1960’s Bob Crewe was one of the worlds most in demand songwriters and producers, best known perhaps for his work with the Four seasons. This compilation focusses on his soul work of the time, and features a whole host of 60’s soul stars such as Ben E King and James Carr. It’s vintage stuff, in all senses of the word, is choc full of soul classics and , in its own way, is a masterclass on how to write songs in this genre.

Watertown / Sinatra, Frank
Mark: An incredibly divisive entry in the Sinatra catalogue, and a commercial dud upon release, ‘Watertown’, a soft-rock concept album following the life of a single character after a bitter separation, has been slowing gaining in critical stature as evidenced by this deluxe reissue. Mainly written by Bob Gaudio of the Four Seasons, the 10 tracks compile a forlorn series of vignettes/’letters’ of a small-town man left to raise his children after his wife leaves him. Sinatra brings all of his accumulated skills to these tunes, his voice older and slightly shaky adding a poignancy to the loneliness inherent in these tracks. In tone this feels like a cycle of songs that at the time was perhaps assumed as the musical purview of Country Music or Folk artists, however the passage of time has shifted all the music boundaries to the extent that this now feels like an album that was far ahead of its time. All the tracks have been newly mixed from the original session tapes, and include previously unreleased bonus material with session outtakes, as well as “Lady Day,” a tribute to Billie Holiday which was not included on the original album.

Neil:: Ole blue eyes 1970 concept album ‘Watertown’ gets a welcome rerelease, remaster, and remix. It’s an album of drama and tragedy, songs that link together to form a sort of story. On its original release fans and critics were shocked at the radical departure from the more well-known Sinatra style, and the album got only lukewarm reviews. But since then it has been widely reappraised, and now many Sinatra fans regard it as one of his finest albums.

This is Brian Jackson / Jackson, Brian
Mark: Composer and multi-instrumentalist Brian Jackson was the writing partner & musical collaborator of Gil Scott-Heron in the 70’s, making 9 albums together. After they split he worked with various other R&B artists and released a low-key solo album in 2000, and this is his first solo release in 20 years. Some of the tracks are old, dating from 70s demos, soundtracks, & 80s cuts, but all of it has been re-recorded with new arrangements and produced by Daniel Collás, of the New York psychedelic soul collective Phenomenal Handclap Band, who also co-wrote some of the new tracks. It’s Jackson’s album all the way though, as the socially-conscious lyrics bubble beneath a mix of nostalgic sounding funky-jazz grooves & soul with some modern touches of Hip-Hop & afrobeat.

Neil: Gil Scott-Heron’s former collaborator releases his first solo work in over twenty years, and in so doing reinvents himself. Jackson’s new album is in one sense like many of the albums being released at the moment, in so much as it’s a sort of musical montage of the genres that inspire him, but Jackson as a seasoned and well-versed musician puts all his creative thoughts through a prism of his own musical history & artistry. The result is a generous and open sounding work, with multi genre pieces that tip their cap to soul, hip hop jazz and funk, but is also an album that fundamentally retains Jackson’s own musical uniqueness.

Sun casts a shadow / Fairlight, Emily
Mark: Wellington-based, ex-Christchurch Americana musician Emily Fairlight and Mike McLeod from Dunedin’s The Shifting Sands join forces for an album of acoustic psych-folk. McLeod’s band The Shifting Sands had taken a back seat, after a US tour on the back of their acclaimed album Cosmic Radio Station derailed badly. Picking up music again in 2018 he joined Fairlight’s live touring band, and after a trip to SXSW the two decided to record some tracks with producer friend in LA. The resulting album is an intimate acoustic affair, with low key indie 80’s C86 bedsit sound, and lovely harmonies that sugar coat the heartbroken centre of some of these songs.

Neil: When covid restrictions put plans for a tour on indefinite hold Emily Fairlight, like many artists, retreated into the creative crucible and started writing new material. On this occasion with the creative assistance of Mike McLeod (aka The Shifting Sands) who supplies guitar of a cosmic rock variety and interweaving harmonic vocals on the album. The result ‘Sun casts a shadow’ is a laid-back, stripped-down, album of timeless psych folk pop songs that move from heartbreak to hope, with a spectral quality to the vocals.

Ladies sing The Boss : the songs of Bruce Springsteen
Mark: Part of Ace Records ‘Songwriter’ series, this compilation brings together some covers of Springsteen tracks recorded on various albums, EPs & tribute albums dating from the 70s to the 2000’s by a wide spectrum of female artists across generations, from Patti Smith, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, to Lucy Dacus, Aoife O’Donovan & Soccer Mommy. As with all of these sorts of albums some interpretations are great, some not as good, but all are generally interesting, as the pull of the compilation lies in seeing how the female perspective on these tracks plays out. They all tend to tackle some of the more brooding, widescreen, tracks in his catalogue, rather than the romantic more personal side of his writing, which also shapes the overall tone of the compilation.

Neil: A compilation album featuring female musicians covering Bruce Springsteen tracks. Featured on the release are big names such as Linda Ronstadt and Patti Smith, as well as lots of names not so well known. The range of styles and genres differ widely from full out rock, to more subtle American alt folk. Each artist finds their own way into the emotional core of each song, and this range and diversity of voices and approaches is both the albums greatest strength and its weakness. That said, you are almost certain to find a few tracks you really like in there.

July’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 3

Here is Part 3 of our new Music Picks for July. 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…
[Ed. Sadly Neil could only fit a couple of albums into his schedule this week…]

Drive my car : original soundtrack. / Ishabashi, Eiko
Mark: Japanese film Drive My Car received rave reviews as a movie, but also for its evocative soundtrack by Eiko Ishabashi, a well regarded Japanese singer-songwriter-musician who has frequently worked with Jim O’Rourke, and whose discography ranges from experimental music, to film soundtracks, to a jazzy tribute to a popular character from TV’s ‘Law & Order’. The film’s motifs are based on jazz rhythm patterns provided by a drummer, and piano, electronics, flute, synth, melodeon, vibraphone & pedal steel guitar fill out the pieces, to provide a melancholy & moody undercurrent. An immersive listen that stands on its own as a suite of music, but also forms a counterpart to the slowly unfolding grief at the heart of the films conversation & car journeys.
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.

Nancy & Lee. / Sinatra, Nancy
Mark: The Light in The Attic label continue their Nancy Sinatra reissue series with her most iconic album, a cult 60’s classic. They had been working together for some time and the album is a compilation of sorts, gathering previously released singles, with some covers and new cuts. His cavernously dead sounding cowboy-vocals, and over the top arrangements, meld perfectly with her girlish sweetness. Their fantastic musical chemistry and sense of fun often hide the depth of her talent in navigating the psychological darkness of the characters in these strange songs. Well deserving of its cult status.
Neil: Fabulous collection of strange and odd tracks from Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood. One might suspect this is the kind of music David Lynch grew up listening too. American Gothic that is rooted in country and Western pop, but looking at it from a carnival funfair, distorted hall of mirrors, perspective.

12th of June. / Lovett, Lyle
Mark: Country stalwart Lyle Lovett returns with his first album in a decade, named after the 2017 date he became a first time father to twins. A mixture of covers and originals, it’s the smorgasbord of styles he’s known for, from Western Swing, to big-band Jazz, to honky-tonk bar room country, all with his trademark sense of humour. Longtime vocal partner Francine Reed guests on a couple of tracks. A sense of poignancy exists as Lovett (now 64) reflects on his musical past, the passage of time on relationships, and his newfound sense of family.

Love & fire / Black Seeds
Mark: Local legends The Black Seeds return with their 7th album, and first album in 5 years. With sessions recorded initially in 2018 at the Surgery, Covid restrictions hit, and the album ended up as a project via video chat. While being created in the middle of a pandemic the album doesn’t focus on Covid specifically, but on overcoming struggles generally, from personal relationships to child rearing. The album never drifts far from their established template, but they throw in a few more different elements like Afrobeat & R&B grooves alongside their patented Reggae/Dub. The result seems deceptively simple, but making a cohesive ‘band’ album separately, and also as cheaply as possible due to the lack of touring, is a real triumph, and that vibe flows into the music which brings an overriding sense of hope to the sunny/breezy tunes.

Second nature. / Lucius
Mark: The 4th album, and first original material in 6 years, from the Brooklyn-based indie pop group fronted by tandem lead vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig – who have also appeared on a Roger Waters album as well as touring as his backing singers, and have featured on tracks from artists as diverse as Ozzy Osbourne, Harry Styles & The War On Drugs. Lucius make classicist AOR pop songs in the ABBA-Fleetwood Mac-dance-pop tradition, and while overlaying electronic beats and synths onto this kind of soncraft isn’t original, their superior writing & vocals have made them stand out. ‘Second nature’ is more classy glistening beats and soaring beautiful duel vocals, that propel the songs into the pop stratosphere. Melancholy in places, yet with an overall feeling of triumph over adversity.

I’ll be yours / Americans (Musical group)
Mark: The 2017 debut album from this LA based roots-rock trio, whose follow up release ‘Stand True’ has just been released. They featured as the ‘house-band’ in the critically acclaimed PBS documentary series American Epic that was produced by Jack White & T Bone Burnett. ‘I’ll be yours’ is an ‘Americana’ album that feels completely authentic and not just another exercise in stylism. Emotional vignettes incorporate elements of power-pop, country-rock, blues, working class rock-n-roll & acoustic ballads, and create a sound that seems to reference everything from Springsteen, to Dylan, to Tom Waits, to The Jayhawks while also sounding completely original.

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.

Box Set Pick:
David Hepworth : deep 70s : underrated cuts from a misunderstood decade.
Mark: David Hepworth is a British music journalist, editor & writer, who launched a number of popular magazines in the 80s & 90s, including Mojo & Empire. In 2021, his book Never a dull moment: 1971, the year that rock exploded was adapted into the Apple TV+ documentary mini-series 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything. He has curated new box set ‘Deep 70s: Underrated Cuts From A Misunderstood Decade’ with the aim of proving his hypothesis that this decade was the most fertile in terms of the music being created and that “More occured between 1971 and 1979 than in any period of music before or since”… Thematically across 4 CDs (one for American acts, one for British acts, one on “hell raisers” from both countries, and one on female performers) he makes a great case with a collection of obscure (though mainstream) gems. Full of great discoveries for the music fan that chooses to seek out the deep cuts beyond the surface charts.

New CDs for Te Awe: Part 3


via GIPHY

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

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

Bamanan / Koné, Rokia
Mark: The debut solo album from Malian singer Rokia Koné, a member of West African supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique. She teams up with mainstream American producer Jacknife Lee, who has produced albums from Taylor Swift to REM. Melding traditional world instruments with Electronica is almost a subgenre in itself now, but this avoids the pitfalls of appropriation and generic-ness that sometimes occurs in such projects, and is really one of the best examples of this endeavour. The drones, beats, swirls of technology are present and anchor the music, simmering with an urgency.

Neil: Rokia Koné is probably best known for her work with supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique. ‘Bamanan’ her debut solo outing displays her distinctive vocal gymnastics, and gloriously celebrates the vibrant richness of ancestral African music. However, the bonus extra ingredient is the inclusion of modern electronics. Added with seemingly effortless fluidity, this mix of the ultra-modern and ancient are woven into a stunning new and cohesive whole.

The Slam! years (1983-1988). / Shaeri, Hamid El
Mark: One of the biggest stars of the Arabic pop scene, Libyan-born singer-songwriter/producer Hamid El Shaeri found success with string of albums on the Cairo-based SLAM!, Egypt’s most successful record label in the 1980s. This compilation collects the highlights of those albums. Relentlessly-catchy tracks, almost impossibly funky, with fantastic old synths, merge into shimmery mellow bossa nova vibes. Reminded me a bit of the debut album from Japan’s Cornelius with its subversion of Western styles. Really great all the way through.

Neil: We have previously reviewed a couple of the Habibi Funk Records and as regular readers know we are big fans . This is another wild and wonderful dive into the Arab World of hidden ( till now) from the wider global music world. This release showcases the early work of the Arab pop superstar Hamid Al-Shaeri . It’s the Eighties, so synth pop is the order of the day, but coming from this part of the world and from this artist it has its own highly distinctive and unique voice. And from these recordings it’s easy to see why he is to this day such a huge star. The album is simultaneous strangely familiar, and yet exotically different .

Electricity. / Ibibio Sound Machine
Mark: 4th album from the London-based collective. Fronted by English-Nigerian vocalist Eno Williams, with a crew of international musicians, Ibibio Sound Machine meld West African funk and disco grooves from the 70s & 80s onto modern electronica. This differs in approach to the Rokia Koné album above, as they fully embrace the club bangers aesthetic, with vibrant Afrobeat & synthy funk. Pulsing grooves to blow your blues away.

Neil: ‘Electricity’ by Ibibio Sound Machine makes for such an exciting listen right from the get-go. There are elements of Electronica, future funk, Afrobeat and post-punk to name but a few, but all are wrapped up in a solid modern disco vibe. It’s almost impossible to listen to without wanting to get up and cut some shapes on a dance floor. Infectiously groovy.

Gyvas : live at St. Catherine Church, Vilnius, 6 November 2013 / Zalvarinis
Mark: The United Nations placed Lithuania’s unique polyphonic folk songs called sutartines on a UNESCO heritage list, and Žalvarinis are the best known Lithuanian band that combine traditional folk with rock – having been around for 20 years and released 10 studio albums. Originally a Folk-metal band, they moved towards progressive rock influences, and then more folk oriented works. This acoustic album was recorded live at the Church of St. Catherine, Vilnius, with 21 famous Lithuanian musicians of all genres, as well as a full choir. The unique instruments and playing combine with the dual female vocals to create something that is alternately pulsing with energy and also quietly haunting.

Neil: Recorded live in Vilnius this is a beautifully produced, performed, and recorded release. Showcases Žalvarinis a Lithuanian folk-rock band famous throughout their home country who have ten studio albums to their name. The intertwining and interweaving female vocals from the two lead singers, and the use or primarily (though not exclusively) acoustic instruments, gives the album a mellow, haunting, unplugged, delicate, slightly prog rock-sound.

The Radio Tisdas sessions. / Tinariwen
Mark: Reissue of the first Tinariwen album to be released outside of Northern Africa, and the world’s introduction to their Saharan desert style. Driving, sinuous guitars and call-and-response vocals. Recorded by people who has recently been literal warriors, the calmness of the music hides a edge that lies under the serene surface. The beginning of a journey that would see them become influential both within their own country, but also across the map of World Music.

Neil: ‘The Radio Tisdas Sessions’ were recorded at the desert outpost of Kidal, the Tamashek-language radio only broadcasting between 7pm and midnight because it was powered by solar panels. The album captures the bands mysterious, hypnotic desert blues style early on, before the band became world famous, and there is even a live track from the legendary Mali Festival of the desert. It is amazing stuff, and they are already at the peak of their considerable musical powers. This recording showcases their more mellow side, before later work demonstrated their hard-edged rock out. However, both are outstanding .

Midnight rocker. / Andy, Horace
Mark: Hard to think that Horace Andy is 71, as in a lot of ways this feels like a young man’s album, full of energy and vision. Produced by UK dub pioneer Adrian Sherwood the crisp production is full of quality On-U Sound musicianship, as Sherwood reimagines several Horace Andy classics, as well as some powerful new material. The themes of the older material still resonate heavily with what is happening in the world today, and this album as a whole is no doubt a future classic.

Neil: Horace Andy the legendary Dub Reggae musician now in his seventy first year releases his first album in three years. ‘Midnight Rocker’ is released on the British Dub label On-U Sound Records, famous for decades for its Dub output, and the album is produced by its maestro Adrian Sherwood. The resultant album is a late period Dub masterclass on how to create a fabulous work. Horace’s voice in recent years has become grittier and deeper than his earlier releases, but this change in his voices’ quality is used to stunning effect. Bottom line is if you are a Dub fan this is a must.

The more things change : film, TV & studio work, 1968-1972. / Barry, John
Mark: Ace Records compilation that focuses on the peak creative period of the composer most well known from his work on the James Bond films. Reissues most of the contents of his classic cult 70’s album ‘Ready When You Are, J.B.’, and features a mix of studio & soundtrack work from Bond films, TV shows & movies. Full of recognisable themes and motifs, that are by turns atmospheric & brooding or lovely and delicate. Compiled by Musicologist & Saint Etienne member Bob Stanley, who also provides the liner notes, so you knows it’s class all the way.

Neil: Well, what can you say about this it is a compilation other than it features some of the most famous film and television music ever, by a peerless composer whose works are still instantly recognizable globally. Some of the pieces are haunting and atmospheric, some are unforgettable with their catchiness. Just to give you a flavour, it ranges from his James Bond work, to the theme for Midnight Cowboy, from his timeless Persuaders theme, to the evocative and melancholic opening track from Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout. A great introduction or reminder of John Barry’s work.

Lost Angeles / Smith, Brix
Mark: Ex-Fall member and currently helming Brix & the Extricated, Brix Smith digs into her past to excavate a previously unreleased album recorded in 1997, with guitarist and singer songwriter Marty Willson-Piper (from Australian rock band The Church). Written at a time of severe loss in the wake of her breakup with Mark E Smith and leaving The Fall in 1989, and again in the early 90s, it was recorded in 1997, but shelved due to her inability to get record deal and her ambivalent feelings towards the raw lyrics underling the album. Fantastic shiny Pop, hiding a swath of dark edged lyrics and themes. Reminiscent of late period Lush.

Neil: The continued re-emergence and rise of the former Fall 80’s stalwart continues after the release of three highly acclaimed albums with The Extricated. ‘Lost Angeles’ was originally recorded in 1997. and never saw the light of day till now. Brix explained that she felt too raw emotionally at the time to release it. It showcases her vocals and song-writing skills, with The Church’s guitarist and singer songwriter Marty Willson-Piper doing a sterling job at providing the musical accompaniment. An album strong with melody and Indie pop hooks, delivered with some really clear and precise vocals.

Versions of modern performance. / Horsegirl
Mark: Chicago female indie-rock trio Horsegirl are the next hyped band of the moment. A Lo-fi, somewhat muddy production aesthetic, coalesces around an set of catchy songs that dabble in indie, grunge, shoegaze, jangle-pop & noise. Production is from John Agnello who produced albums from Breeders and Dinosaur Jr back in the day, so it all has a sheen of direct familiarity. The influences cited reference Sonic Youth, Flying Nun, My Bloody Valentine & Pavement, but to me they sound more like English bands from the late 80s/early 90s. It’s interesting enough that you want to listen to the album again after it finishes, but I’m not so sure it all adds up to something more than a homage to 30 years of indie rock sounds. Still pretty impressive, given that 2 of the band are college freshmen, while the other is a high school senior.

Neil: The debut indie rock outing from Chicago’s Horsegirl helped along the way in its creation by several members of Sonic Youth. The resultant album sounds in all its glory like an album steeped in the drowsy, afterglow of the 80’s and 90’s alt rock, grunge, and shoegaze scenes. The album is an object lesson in recreating the sound of bands like Dinosaur Jnr and the Breeders, and if you are a fan of bands of these genres and these times then it’s a good bet you will enjoy this.

New Music for Te Awe: Part 2


via GIPHY

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

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

Timbuktu. / Sangaré, Oumou
Mark: The Malian star’s 8th album focuses on social critiques & the turmoils of her home, blending the traditional, sinuous, Malian Blues sound, with western rock & folk influences more organically than her previous album. The music, as ever, revolves around her powerful voice that celebrates Mali – while also standing up for women’s rights and the downtrodden and marginalised. Female choruses soar over a wall of sound of traditional African instrumentation, creating a relentlessly hypnotic grove to carry her messages of hope and solidarity.
Neil: The ninth album from the Malian superstar regarded as musical royalty both at home and abroad. Oumou Sangaré recorded the album during lockdown in her new home in Baltimore, a more personal outing than previous works. Tender and intimate and more subtle in approach, though it still delivers its political statements throughout. Known for combining hard hitting political messages, often about women’s low standing in society, with infectious upbeat music, the music here is meticulously constructed from numerous West African folk- fingerpicking treated guitar styles, as well as kamele ngoni and Koras.

Terror twilight : farewell horizontal. / Pavement
Mark: The iconic indie band’s somewhat-maligned final album gets the long awaited deluxe treatment that the rest of the albums have received. Helmed by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich (the altered tracklist of Disc 1 represents his original album sequence) the tighter production and focus on Stephen Malkmus’ songs gives it the feel of a solo album more than a collaborative band effort. The depth of bonus material is less than previous deluxe releases, mostly consisting of Malkmus’ demos, B-sides and some alternate takes. However it serves to showcase some of the underlying tensions with the band, as they struggle to get to grips with Malkmus’ more complex writing, and his evolving musical aesthetic. A fine reconsideration of this outlier in their creative catalogue.
Neil: Pavement were one of the most influential indie rock bands ever. ‘Terror twilight’ was their last album, and this is the definitive release, with outtakes and demos included. The album was recorded as the band were being pulled apart from the inside, with various members wanting totally different things from the recordings and being in the band, and the recording process itself became an expensive stop start process in several recording studios. And you can hear all that tension and unease in the finished pieces. Some are wildly experimental, whilst others are clearly aiming at a more “ mainstream indie” sound. That said, in many people’s opinion it contains some of Pavement’s best and most original work and is definitely a fabulous insight into an obviously fraught creative process. A truly enigmatic work from the band that might have been the ‘American Radiohead’ if things had played out differently.

We’ve been going about this all wrong. / Van Etten, Sharon
Mark: The 6th album from Van Etten moves further away from her acoustic/Americana sound into soaring synths and beats. The gossamer vocals are melded to an epic production, that seems big on even the acoustic tracks. Her writing deals with the detritus of failed relationships and emotional upheaval and this album, written over the Covid period, uses that skill to drill down into the specifics of our collective uncertainties during this time: raising children in isolation, keeping love & life together, moving forward, letting optimism override sadness. The sweeping grandeur reminded me of Mercury Rev at points.
Neil: : Like many of us Sharon Van Etten struggled throughout the pandemic and, like many artists, she used her art to explore and express her emotions and feelings in new music. The songs in ‘We’ve been going about this all wrong’, her sixth outing, are subsequently about the demon’s that haunted her over that period, as well as reflections on and acceptance of past mistakes. The music is like a lot of her work: noirish indie pop with slight nods to the gothic genre.

This is a photograph. / Morby, Kevin
Mark: The seventh solo from American singer-songwriter Kevin Morby (formerly of psych/folk band Woods) was inspired in part by old family photographs he was going through after his father had a serious health scare. There’s a Dylan-esque element to Morby’s work, and this album has been acclaimed as perhaps the best expression yet of his musical vision. Recorded in Memphis the album absorbs that cities mix of grit & style, and these contemplative narratives of middle America are shot through with horns and strings. An album that’s almost impossible to describe, with a grandiose, almost epic, vision to it. Its sprawling themes, and warm tales of family and memory, explore the lives of his parents, the end of childhood innocence, and the bittersweet complications and detours of lives well lived.
Neil: The seventh album from the Kansas city troubadour Kevin Morby is big. Big on sound and vision. An album that veers, as required and needed, from maximalist to minimalist American. It is a vast sprawling work dealing with the big stuff: love, life, family, and death. It is a highly nuanced piece, loud when required soft and quiet, when necessary, all aimed at serving the emotional content at any moment, and in the end a celebration of the richness of life.

Humble quest. / Morris, Maren
Mark: Third major label album from this Texas country singer. Part of the wave of younger artists whose core is a traditional singer-songwriter style, but who reflect the digital age of musical fluidity that happily incorporates glossy pop, indie rock, adult AOR, & R&B into the mix. Thoughtful mature commentaries on love, life & family surrounded by Greg Kurstin’s slick production. The pop quirky-ness of Jewel meets the slick country songwriting of early Taylor Swift.
Neil: Clear eyed country pop from Maren Morris the Nashville songstress, coloured by both her recent motherhood and grief from losing her creative foil and band-mate Michael Busbee. It is a short album, 37 mins long, but there is a cohesive clarity expressed in the deliberate simple beauty of many of the tracks.

Crooked tree / Tuttle, Molly
Mark: Tuttle’s third full length album & debut on Nonesuch, shifts from her previous roots-pop sound to more traditional bluegrass, with plenty of violin, banjo & guitar picking. The lyrics focus on the heartland life and its people, millers, farmers and moonshiners, the land & the instilled values that are always with you wherever you are. If Maren Morris’ album was about escaping small town life, this album is about leaning into its traditions and culture. Reminded me of Alison Krauss & Union Station in places. Dan Tyminski from that band actually guests on one track, as do Old Crow Medicine Show & Margo Price, so that should give you an idea of the sound.
Neil: Crooked Tree is an upbeat modern, and very stylish, take on traditional American bluegrass music, replete with duelling banjos picked by fingers at a blurred speed and country violins. The music is modern in approach, but has its roots strongly in the bluegrass genre. However, this modern approach is much more prominent in the lyrics: songs about modern America, growing grass, the gentrification of long-standing communities in cities, and especially strong women, are at its core.

Still life. / McHone, Carson
Mark: 3rd album from this Texas-born singer/songwriter moves away from her first recordings, which were apparently more straight ahead honky tonk barroom ballads. Stylistically this almost splits the difference with the previous two country-esque album reviewed above. Not traditional, but not slick country-pop also. This is more akin to the 90s singer-songwriter/Americana sound of Sheryl Crow, Gretchen Peters, Kim Richey, Gillian Welch and the like. An equal mix of outward roots-rock and inward introspection, that tackles the shifting emotions of relationships. A singer on the rise.
Neil: Whilst definitely fitting firmly into the Americana genre ‘Still Life’ deftly demonstrates what a broad church this genre can be. Carson introduces musical and lyrical experimentation in a complementary fashion to the core country sound. There’s southern soul inflected tracks’ a nod to R&B. as well as gnarly rock heavy guitars in places. Carson’s vocal delivery has a gentle beauty to it. which is the icing on top of the cake.

Motomami. / Rosalía
Mark: 3rd album from this Spanish superstar, following 2018’s flamenco-pop smash El mal querer. A fascinating listen, that mixes traditional Latin styles with contemporary pop. Traditional ballads meet rap, bachata, reggaeton, electronica, trap and more, often in the same track. A perfect mix of musical experimentation that succeeds in merging the past and the present, with an originality and singular vision that reminded me of Robyn’s self-titled breakthrough album.
Neil: ‘Motomami’ is the third album from the Spanish singer Rosalia. It is a musical self-portrait, a confessional work, which explores her feelings over the past three years. With sexuality, spirituality, heartbreak, and self-discovery all explored. The album is a genre bending collage of influences: experimental pop in the complex genre style of alternative Reggaeton – which evolved from hip hop, dancehall Caribbean and Latin American music, usually sung in Spanish in a rap singing cross-style. The resulting listen is an exhilarating roller coaster of sounds and tunes.

New Music for Te Awe: Part 1


via GIPHY

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

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

The pavilion of dreams. / Budd, Harold
Mark: New CD addition of the second album from minimalist composer Harold Budd. Lovely, peaceful, tranquil musical twinklings. Easy to see why he is now hailed as one of the forerunners of the ambient movement. There is a yearning melancholy to these hushed, reverb-laden, synthesiser lines and choral like vocals, and you can perhaps infer an influence on Vangelis when he was scoring Blade Runner.

Neil: A very welcome release of this exquisite, beautiful, very relaxing album, that never falls into the many traps of new age music. It has complexity and depth, as well as sinuous melodic drift. In many circles Harold Budd is a legend, producing an outstanding body of solo work and collaborating with the likes of The Cocteau Twins, Brian Eno, and John Foxx. Brian Eno described him as “a great abstract painter trapped in the body of a musician”. Which you can clearly hear why on this album.

Keep on with falling. / Boo Radleys
Mark: The Boo Radleys are a UK indie-pop band that mixed shoegaze, dream pop, & psychedelia who were big in the early 90s, but faded away towards the end of the decade with a couple of uninspiring releases. Deciding to reform in the 2020’s without their chief songwriter, this is their first studio album since 1998, and is actually really good. Sunny feel-good pop, with soaring choruses and dreamy atmospherics. The strong vocal harmonies have a real Hollies/Teenage Fanclub feel. Classicist pop at its best.

Neil: This is the first Boo Radleys album in 24 years and the first without founding member and lead guitarist Martin Carr. The result is a bouncy , punchy Brit pop outing full of catch pop songs. The album is different from the ones that Carr was on, his influence on the band brought a more unusual and unique sonic pallet to the mix, in short, their own brand of psychedelic, creating an absence that some listeners may miss.

Wet Leg. / Wet Leg
Mark: Critics who liked Wet Leg’s viral 2021 debut single Chaise Longue, with it’s amusing spoken word non sequiturs, have been somewhat disappointed at the more conventional album that has followed; whereas those who found the single an over-hyped novelty, have found the album deeper and more varied. Essentially a duo of Isle of Wight, musicians Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, they are certainly the most hyped band of the moment. Full of infectious melodies, their debut manages to balance the silliness of some of their songs, with others that capture the specific rolling anxieties of late 20s millennials. Biting lyrics rip through boring parties, relationships with ex-boyfriends, dating apps, and the malaise of being young women in a small town. Verdict: Lives up to the hype.

Neil: The indie rock duo’s debut album has already attracted a lot of attention. The album itself has clever lyrics stuffed full of modern observational, tongue in cheek, cynicism and self-deprecation, all wrapped in infectiously catchy indie rock tunes. It is all very on point and comments in a very wry and funny way on what it is like to be a young woman in our current times. It is easy to see why they are one of the most talked about debut bands of 2022. Not bad for a band formed at the top of a Ferris wheel as a dare.

Recordings from the Åland Islands / Chiu, Jeremiah
Mark: A similar album to ‘The pavilion of dreams’ is this collaboration from LA based musicians Jeremiah Chiu (modular synths) and Marta Sofia (viola), which is music sampled from the natural environment of the Åland Islands, an archipelago in the Baltic Sea between Sweden & Finland. Piano, synths, and violas merge with field recordings to create a languid, textured, dreamscape. An atmospheric and soothing audio journey, that seems to be leading you deeper into nature’s hidden realms, with the destination perhaps the perfect idyll, an pure isolated space completely untouched by man.

Neil: Another lovely album designed to soothe the soul. The tracks were all created in response to time spent on the Åland Islands, an archipelago in the Baltic Sea. The sounds ebb and flow, but beneath the sonic waves glittering under a tender sun there is a lot going on in these recordings. A work that transports the listener to an almost, too beautiful, golden paradise. Works well in conjunction with the Harold Budd album reviewed earlier.

On the grove. / Soul Revivers
Mark: When reggae producer and label boss David Hill acted as music consultant to Idris Elba’s film adaptation of Victor Headley’s book Yardie, he and fellow label head Nick Manasseh ended up recording a bunch of new music. This led them to assemble this album which features Jamaican legends alongside contemporary artists. Musicians spanning seven decades of Jamaican music combine to create a moody, evocative portrait of the deep musical links between London & Kingston. The combined experience of those involved lends a subtle flow to it all, with solid dub/jazz/soul grooves all the way. Laid back in the best possible way.

Neil: An album of new music that is firmly rooted in the rock steady sound of 1970’s reggae music. The resultant album uses many of the musicians who were around at the time and helped define and create this genre. So, it is no surprise that the music and production are both spot on, evoking both the music of that time and the culture it was created in with ease, delivering a very laidback reggae/jazz-tinged listening experience

Forever on my mind. / House, Son
Mark: An album of lost recordings of this Blues legend, assembled and produced by Dan Auerbach. Rediscovered in the 60’s, like a lot of the original Delta Bluesmen from the 1930s, these tracks come from a casual 1964 session performed before about 50 people at Wabash College, that was recorded by his manager. The bare bones music only enhances these spine tingling tales of loss & pathos. The crystal clear vocals and guitar make this perhaps one of the best sounding authentic blues albums ever released.

Neil: ‘Forever on my mind’ is an album of long-lost recordings from the legendary Delta Blues musician Son House. Listening to the album you can hear raw emotion seeping through every track, both in the Son’s crystal clearly recorded classic blues vocals and his trademark bottleneck guitar playing, which shines throughout the release. These are not mere studio cast offs; instead what we get is a meticulously constructed and curated album from an artist at the height of his powers and on top form, in what was his second rediscovery period as a musician.

Emotional eternal. / Melody’s Echo Chamber
Mark: Third album from the project of French musician Melody Prochet. Since 2018’s Bon Voyage, she has recovered from a serious accident that left her with a brain aneurysm and broken vertebrae, relocated to the Alps and given birth to a daughter. All these changes are reflected in the music, with her airy falsetto offset by warm soaring melodies that sound joyous and uplifting. Comforting, ethereal, psych-pop that glides over you like a warm blanket.

Neil: A blissful slow burn, dream pop release from Melody’s Echo Chamber, Their definite neo-psychedelia tendencies are perhaps more focussed, and slightly more angled to the pop-sensibilities that they have always displayed, but it’s a very fine album and a welcome new addition to their catalogue.

Box Set Pick:
Come away with me [deluxe]. / Jones, Norah
Mark: At the time of it’s 2002 release Jazz purists may have seen Norah Jones’ ‘Come Away with me’ as the end of Blue Note’s credibility, but the album would go on to commercial & critical success. Not only did it become one of the best selling albums of all time, it was hugely influential on music itself, creating the audience for subsequent acts like Katie Melua, Melody Gardot, Madeleine Peyroux, Corinne Bailey Rae, Kandace Springs and many others. This 3-Disc Deluxe reissue for the albums 20th Anniversary includes demos, early sessions, and an entire version of the album recorded with producer Craig Street (who was well known at the time for his work on Blue Note with Cassandra Wilson on Blue light ’til dawn & New Moon Daughter). All of these alternate takes, and session tracks paint a deeper Jazz-Country-tinged portrait of Jones and her music at this time, as opposed to the sophisticated, ‘Coffee-House’ MOR stylings, of the album that was eventually released. A fascinating examination of an album and an artist that would go on to become a global phenomenon.

Neil: The deluxe 20th anniversary release of Norah Jones’ debut album comes with a whole host of interesting and intriguing extra tracks. When ‘Come away with me’ was initially released in 2002 it was done without much of a fanfare. It was, however, to launch a career that has so far sold 50 million records, and gained nine Grammy awards. Norah was only 22 when she released her Jazz-fusion debut (it has elements of Blues, Folk, pop, and country woven in), but it eventually went to the top the US charts, and remains her biggest selling album. What makes this release so fascinating, is the plethora of demos and unreleased tracks which give a brilliant oversight into how the album evolved over time, and also an intriguing glimpse of the various albums it might have become. Indeed, the creative and artistic decisions displayed in these extras show exactly what it takes to create such a hugely successful work.

New CDs for Te Awe: Part 2


via GIPHY

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

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

Nijimusi. / OOIOO
Mark: OOIOO are a long running Japanese Experimental noise-pop band. While previous album Gamel incorporated two metallophone players, this is (supposedly) a return to a more basic quartet of drums/bass/guitar & vocals. It sounds like a bunch of frenetic musical snippets, spoken-chanted Japanese singing, angular guitars, and muted trumpets all thrown together on top of serious drum grooves. If a musical stew of experimental, layered, polyrhythmic-avant-garde progressive jazz-rock sounds like something you would enjoy, then this is right in your musical wheelhouse. I have to admit that I find this entire genre just too much hard work. Maybe I am too old for this…

Neil: OOIOO is YoshimiO, the drummer from the avant-rock group Boredoms. Nijimusi is the eighth album under their guise of OOIOO. It is not for the unadventurous or faint hearted. The balance throughout the album is between chaos and structure, articulated through insistent, propulsive experimental rock. The repetitive, in the groove, drum patterns become meditative as they progress, and at points are punctuated by ritualistic chanting. As you listen from track to track, the album takes on a kind off shape shifting aura.

Aboogi. / Imarhan
Mark: The best world music manages to embraces traditions, while also being able to sound fresh and modern. Algerian band Imarhan deliver this once again with their second album, following 2018’s Temet. Bluesy guitar lines meld with Tuareg folksong and fantastic harmonies, evoking the primal feel of the desert; the swirling dust around campfires, the tensions and needs of people vs the natural elements of such a harsh environment. It’s a difficult line to walk; singing of the poverty and struggle of your people while also celebrating the richness of its cultural heritage. This album fuses the sound of modern rock to organic folk-lore traditions of lore and spoken word. Imarhan manage to create an album that feels like the soundtrack of a journey from disenfranchisement to hope, while also being just a great rock album.

Neil: ‘Aboogi is a complex, multi layered, Tuareg, desert blues album. The second from the Algerian based quintet, the tracks within it are uplifting, subtle and masterfully crafted with superb melodies and big catchy cords. This highly accomplished album has hope, wisdom and sadness all woven into the often-chilled songs. An album that will win fans old and new.

Sgt Culpepper. / Culpepper, Joel
Mark: Joel Culpepper is one of the artists helming the UK soul renaissance that has been bubbling over the last few years. Older than some of the other emerging artists, his full-length debut album ‘Sgt Culpepper’ was 10 years in the making. The time he spent developing his skills and reputation as a performer and songwriter clearly shows in this work. Full of top notch musicians, song writing and production; the instrumentation has plenty of horns & strings, lots of other layers, but also feels crisp. An amalgam of classic soul and modern attitude. While his voice has the elastic facility of classic soul artists like Marvin, Eddie Kendricks or Curtis Mayfield; the songs are grounded the realities of black life in the UK. Recommended.

Neil: ‘Sgt Culpepper’ is a modern soul funk release which aims high, so high in fact that its title plays off the legendary Beatles album. That said, the music stylistically has very little in common with the fab four; the work is more closely aligned to artists like Isaac Haynes or Prince. The overall sound of the album is a rich retro-future soul; simultaneously very 21st century, whilst referencing 70’s and 80’s artists. It is a very accomplished debut that succeeds in its aims.

The tipping point. / Tears For Fears
Mark: The popular 80s band return after 17 years with a new album. Their shiny 80s synth-pop always hid a spiritual and intellectual side (their name is inspired by psychologist Arthur Janov’s primal therapy), and the 10 year long gestation period of this album imbues the songs with the weighty melancholy of life events (the passing of Orzabal’s wife, health issues). Lush, elegant and perfectly crafted songs soar to anthemic heights, creating a cathartic and uplifting album. A great return.

Neil: In the eighties, Tears for Fears were one of the biggest bands out, however their music was always more than sparking synths and crafted melodies. Think of their first UK hit Mad World. This intimate emotional sensitivity has been evident throughout their career, and carries on through to this release. It is an emotionally balanced album, mixing moments of sadness and grief with acceptance and an uplifting spirit. This mature album that sounds very much like a culmination of their career, both emotionally and musically.

Wild loneliness. / Superchunk
Mark: Alternative rock stalwarts return for their twelfth album, which takes their music is a different direction. This one eschews the alternative rock and punk stylings of previous releases for a more openly acoustic and melodic sensibility. The power-pop guitars create a relaxed musical palette for them to provide a message of hope, as the songs push back against the pandemic, climate change fears and a world in crisis.

Neil: Fear and ambivalence are explored in indie band Superchunk’s twelfth outing. The album sounds like a band building on the lessons of their past, the D.I. Y. punk ethos of earlier albums is largely gone. In its place is a much more polished, fuzzy pop song sound with songs about environmental and societal collapse. It has been described as “bunker bedroom pop”, a term new to me but basically can be described as music to soothe you even if you know the World has gone to hell in a handbag. There are still hooks a plenty in there too; as well as strings, horns and acoustic guitars.

Wires turned sideways in time. / Marquiss, Duncan
Mark: This got a 9 out of 10 in Uncut. I had never heard of Marquiss before, but he is the guitarist in Scottish outfit The Phantom Band (we have their 2014 album Strange Friend). This, his debut solo album, is an electro-acoustic collage of acoustic sounds, treated pickings, drone-ish electronica and acoustic stringed pieces. The album has a reflective and cinematic feel, but it’s not background easy listening. It’s an album of intricate instrumentals with varying shades of tone and expression that pull you into the nuances of each track.

Neil: ‘Wires turned sideways in time’ is an ambient solo album by the Scottish indie outfit The Phantom Band’s guitarist Duncan Marquiss. Layers of textural guitar woven into minimalist drone, synth-electronic, elements form into a filmic, expansive landscape work that could easily be used as a film soundtrack. The result is still sharply focussed and engaging. Imagining Popol Vuh, the band doing a soundtrack for a film like Paris Texas, will give you some idea of the sonic delights in the album.

Love boredom bicycles. / Bakers Eddy
Mark: The debut album from Karori band Bakers Eddy, who are now based in Melbourne. Their debut has had a long gestation period, so a lot of these songs have been road tested live and through demos recorded over the Covid lockdown. The result is 35 minutes of pure fizzy pop-punk exuberance. Most of the songs barely clock in at 3 minutes and capture the raucous energy of youth, specifically the coming of age journey of moving to a new country to pursue their musical careers. While the music is relentlessly upbeat, full of hooks and catchy melodies, the lyrics are often in direct juxtaposition, revealing the struggles and uncertainty of the last couple of years, depression and heavy drinking.

Neil: Australian-based Wgtn. band Bakers Eddy release their debut album ‘Love boredom bicycles’. The resultant music is an exuberant, high-energy, soul of the party, indie-punk outing, resplendent with loads of infectiously catch hooks. Whilst there is nothing particularly ground breaking here, the album is still a joyous burst of punk energy fun, bouncy and full of sparking energy.

The overload. / Yard Act
Mark: New UK post-punks live up to the hype with a cracking debut album. Sinuous guitar lines and catchy grooves underpin a sardonic, playful and wry take on the lives of ordinary people in a post-Brexit UK. Full of acerbic barbs that skewer the establishment, and the kind of dry narration that made Dry Cleaning’s New long leg from last year so enjoyable.

Neil: ‘The overload’ is a wacky post punk debut album from British band Yard Act. It is full of tongue-in-cheek political anger, sometimes delivered straight up and sometimes inter-spliced with cut up surrealist inserts. There are touches of The Fall and Pulp in their approach. The albums lyrics are very of the moment, railing against the current political and social injustices in Britain.

Warm Chris. / Harding, Aldous
Mark: More sweetly charming psych-folk from Harding. This, her fourth album, is full of more imaginistic stories and oblique lyrics but the instrumentation is more minimal; a piano line here, a saxophone there, some occasional banjo. If you are vaguely familiar with who she is and have perhaps heard a few songs here and there, the extent of her overseas reputation may come as a surprise. One of the few NZ artists whose new albums generate reviews from the likes of Pitchfork (an 8.2 for this), The New York Times, The Guardian and NME among others. Her strange, playful, shifting voice, abstract lyrics and weird songs may all seem a bit insular, but she is one of those artists who require some patience until the complexity, pleasure & richness of her music unfolds for the listener.

Neil: ‘Warm Chris’ by New Zealand singer songwriter Aldous Harding has a beautiful and strange childlike curiosity behind many of the songs contained within it. The album is a soft and gentle; psychedelic folk outing, dense in places, charming in its use of free association in the lyrics. The songs build up in waves to form sparse and oblique arrangements. However, behind this seemingly laid-back approach is an incredibly carefully crafted album, both musically and lyrically. Overall, the album takes on the atmosphere of a finely honed piece of sonic abstract art.

To enjoy is the only thing. / Maple Glider
Mark: ‘To Enjoy Is The Only Thing’ is the debut album from Melbourne born-Uk based singer Tori Zeitsch. A wistful and hushed album of reflective indie-piano/folk, the songs weave through the debris of a failed relationship and an upbringing in a religious sect. Themes of isolation, loneliness and melancholy are explored through the lens of finding your own new identity and belief system. The dreamy, ethereal, intimate, chamber arrangements hide the strength of hard won resolutions. An impressive debut. Definitely check it out if you’re a fan of Weyes Blood or Phoebe Bridges.

Neil: Maple Glider’s ‘To enjoy is the only thing’ is a gentle, sparse, hypnotic and introspective release about the ending of a relationship and the singer leaving her religious upbringing behind. At its core, the work is fundamentally about loneliness. The album has been described as threadbare folk, which only partially covers its substance. There is a confessional singer-songwriter aspect to the songs, like some of Joni Mitchell’s early works.

Metal bird. / Adams, Eve
Mark: Third album from this Oklahoma-LA based singer. Moody Americana-torch-songs very much in the nexus of Mazzy Star and a David Lynch movie. Full of woozy meditations on heartbreak and loss, surrounded by spare Noir-folk stylings. There’s an eerie, timeless melancholy to the album and her smoky voice. Haunting.

Neil: ‘Metal bird’ the third album from Eve Adams has best been described as Astral Americana: Americana with slide guitars and evocative vocals, but one that has wide screen cosmic intentions and nuances. Though spacey and unmoored from time and space, Eve Adams’ softly sung lyrics are often precisely and razor sharply honed, whilst the accompanying music is lo-fi, oblique and sparse. The work hovers simultaneously between what Oscar Wilde would describe as the gutter and the stars.

Box Set Pick:
Old friend : the deluxe collection (1976-1998). / Hyman, Phyllis
Mark: If you were to look up ‘Sophisticated elegance’ in a dictionary, there would probably be a picture of Phyllis Hyman as an illustration. The statuesque (6-foot-1) singer spent years singing in bands and clubs before Jazz drummer Norman Connors decided to include her vocals on one of his R&B collective albums, which went Gold, catapulting her career to new heights. She signed to Buddah records and recorded a couple of albums of smooth 70s ‘Quiet Storm’ soul that showcased her mesmerizing voice, but found the more commercial sound of Clive Davis’ Arista Records (who took over distribution of Buddah) more difficult to navigate. Post Arista she found critical & commercial success again in the late 80s, after she signed to the classic Philadelphia International Records. A talented actress also, she earned a Tony nomination for the Broadway musical ‘Sophisticated Ladies’, a tribute to Duke Ellington. She possessed a musical versatility & subtlety – the ability to bridge jazz, Soul, cabaret and black-pop as singer – but unfortunately struggled with mental health issues her whole life, when there were not a lot of support structures in place, suffering from bipolar disorder and depression for years and often self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. Sadly she took her own life in 1995, six days before her 46th birthday. This Cherry Red/SoulMusic comprehensive 9-CD box set collects her entire recorded output, and is a fitting testament to an exceptionally talented singer who always deserved more acclaim during her lifetime.

Neil: So, every month myself and my co conspirator Mark like to pick at least one retrospective box set release to round things off, not really to critically review it, more as an excuse to wax lyrical about how much we love the artist’s work. And so it is with Phyllis Hyman’s ‘Old Friend’. Phyllis Hyman is best known for her releases in the late 1970’s and her renaissance in the early 1990’s. If you are unfamiliar with her work, it can best be described as ultra smooth R & B with, “depending on the album”, elements of jazz, or on occasion disco-funk. Nearly all her work is marked by its sophistication and effortless glamour. Cool chic. She was the artist who paved the way for artists like Anita Baker and Whitney Houston. This extensive box set contains all her releases from the years 1976 to 1998.

New CDs for Te Awe: Part 1


via GIPHY

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

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

You belong there. / Rossen, Daniel
Mark: Solo full-length debut from the Grizzly Bear co-frontman/multi instrumentalist. Hewes closely to that GB/Radiohead nexus, but imbued with a greater degree of freedom of experimentation that the solitude of lockdown afforded. A deeply meditative song cycle full of intricately arranged tracks full of creeping anxiety.
Neil: Sweeping intricate guitars leads the free form jazz harmonies that are at the root this solo effort from the Grizzly Bear co-founder. There is so much music referenced in this work; from Nick Drake to Brazilian Folk, not to mention blues and classical. The result is dense and complicated in sound and emotion, an album that is both vulnerable and open to a huge extent, it’s willingness to embrace so much makes the sonic journey worth taking.

In my own time. / Dalton, Karen
Mark: 50th Anniversary edition of the 2nd album from this influential folk artist, and subject of a 2021 documentary. Dalton’s music focused on authentic honesty of a song’s interpretation above technical perfection, and her intense voice & interpretations found fans in contemporaries like Bob Dylan. Kind of a folk ‘Billie Holliday’, her small body of work attracted a much deserved cult following, much like Nick Drake or Eva Cassidy, that only increases with time.
Neil: Karen Dalton’s much overdue rediscovery continues with the re-release of the folk rock legend’s 1971 sophomore album. The singer is idolized by the likes of Bob Dylan and Nick Cave. The tracks are covers, but Dalton totally inhabits each song and makes each one off them her own, thanks in part to the plaintive emotional nuances put on the lyrics by her amazing and unique voice. This was very sadly to be her last release, she famously recorded almost nothing and fell into a spiralling pit of drink, drugs, and depression from which she never escaped. Her tragic life was the subject of a highly recommended documentary recently called KAREN DALTON: IN MY OWN TIME. The album makes you wish there was more of her work out there.

Fear of the dawn. / White, Jack
Mark: The 2nd album that Jack White wrote and recorded during lockdown (the first ‘Entering Heaven Alive’ is due for release in July). Classic rock tropes, guitar freak-outs, Far-Eastern influences, weird samples and soulful jams all form a sonic barrage tied together by a loose overarching concept of eosophobia – a Greek term for a morbid fear of daylight. The cut-up production style (à la William S. Burroughs – who is sampled on one track) has divided opinion, with critics hailing it as either his strongest solo album, or a mystifying ‘mad-scientist’ melange of sounds.
Neil: ‘Fear of the Dawn’ is Jack White’s weirdest most adventurous and imaginative outing yet. That said, experimentation and melodic elements are finely balanced and his trademark blues-rock style is definitely present. There are samples of William Burroughs dialogue and copious usage of overdubs that ensure that any comparisons with the White Stripes are fleeting. There are even prog-rock elements incorporated into the work. A new and strange direction for the White Stripes guitarist.

Chloë and the next 20th century. / Misty, Father John
Mark: More eccentric musing from the former Fleet Foxes drummer and internet provocateur Father John Misty (real name Josh Tillman). Witty and acerbic character sketches form the backbone of his Lou Reed/Harry Nilsson/Jackson Browne nexus of uneasy listening. His music exists in a strange amalgam of sincerity and irony, and this album is more of the same, just more grandiose in its scope and arrangements as he delves deep into a spooky layered nostalgia with these seedy, showtun-ish, vignettes.
Neil: The romance of the American dream as in a faded mirror has often been a staple of Hollywood, and a strong influence on the work of Father John Misty. The silver screen haunts some of his previous albums, but in a very modern way. Father John Misty’s latest outing takes a very different look at this influence. Imagine, if you will, a fabulous richly created evocation of the Hollywood environs, specifically the 1940’s and 50’s, both in terms of the music and lifestyles of the times. That would be very close to what this album sounds like.

Life on Earth. / Hurray for the Riff Raff
Mark: ‘Hurray for the Riff Raff’ is the project of singer/songwriter Alynda Segarra who is of Puerto Rican descent. This, their 8th album, got of lot of great reviews and it’s not hard to see why. A mix of Americana Roots and modern rock sounds surround a set of catchy, melodic songs. Lyrically, this work focuses on our ongoing war on the planet and the shifting turmoil of 2020s politics on marginalised groups. They call the sound of this album ‘nature punk’ and despite the weighty subjects, the focus is on hope and survival.
Neil: The eight album from Alynda Segarras is an intimate work; part nature punk, part indie rock with anthemic choruses in places and even a little bit of hip-hop thrown in. The songs on the album display a raw, honest and self-possessed openness. If you need a reference point, it reminded me in places of a folk punk P.J Harvey. Which is, of course, no bad thing.

Another side. / Nocentelli, Leo
Mark: ‘Another Side’ is the previously unissued 1971 debut solo album from Meters’ guitarist Leo Nocentelli. Recorded in a New Orleans Jazz City Studio studio (with Allen Toussaint on Piano) while the Meters were on a hiatus, the tapes of fully produced demos were shelved and forgotten at Toussaint’s Sea-Saint studio when the Meters signed with Warner Bros. Thought drowned during Hurricane Katrina when Toussaint’s studio was destroyed, incredibly the album was amongst 16 boxes of tapes from from Jazz City and Sea-Saint studios that surfaced at at a swap meet in Torrance, California, saved from the storm and left in an L.A. storage unit. Distinctly different from the Meters, this is a singer-songwriter album in the the mould of 70’s Laurel Canyon/Bill Withers, full of great bluesy acoustic laments.
Neil: These previously unknown 1971 recordings by Leo Nocentelli “ The Meters legendary guitarist” are a revelation . His trademark nylon string unique guitar sound is unmistakable, though this solo outing is distinctly different from his Meters work. The tapes the album was created from were found at a tape swap and meet event in 2018, and it turns out they were rescued from the vault of the studio they were recorded at after it was hit by Hurricane Katrina. The resultant music is a gorgeous roots-rock outing in places, slightly reminiscent of Dr John or Beck during his Sea Change album phase, and are a very welcome if unlikely sonic rescue.

Tales of common folk, salt & sweet kisses. / Parry, Nigel
Mark: Originally from the UK, Nigel Parry is now a well established voice in the Wellington folk music scene. His new album is mostly original NZ focused material, with a couple of traditional European covers, forming a reflective journey through our history; from whaling in the Marlborough Sounds, to tales of love, the unspoken trauma of war returnees and the changes the modern world has wrought on small rural towns. His delicate picking and mellow voice helm the strong set of traditional folk.
Neil: New Zealander Nigel Parry’s album is firmly rooted in the heart of traditional English Folk music. It’s a perfectly executed genre piece with subtle, delicate and poised songs, many of which were written by Parry himself. His voice is pitch-perfect for the tracks too. As is fitting for an album referencing English Folk music, the songs are stories in themselves. If you are a fan of English Folk music at all, it comes with our top recommendation and well worth a listen if you’re not.

Ghost song. / Salvant, Cécile McLorin
Mark: Cécile McLorin Salvant is an American Jazz vocalist who has won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album three times. Her 6th album (and first for the Nonesuch label) is inspired by Kate Bush & ghosts and is full of her angular take on Jazz; a blend of traditional smokey Jazz ballads, experimental moments and musical theatre/cabaret type numbers. It’s easy to see why she is so acclaimed, but her idiosyncratic approach to singing may not be to everyone’s taste.
Neil: ‘Ghost Song’ is an idiosyncratic and musically playful album that displays an incredibly wide range of sonic pallets in its creation. It is mainly a Jazz singer songwriter piece, though many other influences come into play. The album is a mixture of covers and original compositions, and it includes a radical and beautiful reinterpretation of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights.

How is it that I should look at the stars / Weather Station
Mark: Written at the same time as 2021’s critically acclaimed Ignorance, this is a somewhat different album. Mostly piano based songs that are hushed and intimate, there are no big hooks in these somber melancholic soundscapes but the songs are melodic and full of interesting layers that reveal themselves on repeated listens. Very much in the mould of 90s Sarah McLachlan.
Neil: ‘How is it that I should look at the stars’ is a deeply vulnerable, sparse and beautiful album. An object lesson in delicate song writing. The songs are sensitive, cool, fluid, melancholic, but within the darkness is the occasional flicker of light. The album is breathtakingly beautiful in its own way, a quiet contemplative late night album.

Painless. / Yanya, Nilüfer
Mark: 2nd album from this London singer-songwriter, following 2019’s Miss Universe. Her debut album was chock full of all the eclectic musical styles that artists from her generation have been able to absorb and reflect as they figure out their own musical identity. Thus, her sophomore album is the logical progression to a more solidified sound; a smooth, melodic, refined indie-pop. Her voice glides over the tracks, all of which have a tense insular feel. The skittering beats tackling inner turmoil, identity, emotional & physical self-harming, this is the sound of someone about to become a big star.
Neil: Painless by Nilüfer Yanya is a smooth, poised and elegant pop album. A subtle listen in a hooky pop-world type of way. It’s catchy in a sneaky way, with melty and flirtations lyrics and in places reminded me of New Order.

Black acid soul. / Lady Blackbird
Mark: CD release of this album, which was released digitally & on limited Vinyl editions in 2021. Lady Blackbird is the moniker of L.A singer Marley Munroe. The title might suggest this is a funk/Afro-futurist outing, but this is seriously deep Jazz with touches of soul. Minimal guitar, piano & bass frame her amazing voice (somewhere between Nina Simone, Billie Holliday & Cassandra Wilson) as she re-interprets a series of modern songs from Allen Toussaint, Tim Hardin, Nina Simone, The James Gang & the like. She also adds lyrics of her own to “Fix It”, which is based on the Bill Evans classic instrumental “Peace Piece”. Moody, spiritual, intense and haunting. She is definitely on her way to next big thing status.
Neil: The hugely anticipated ‘Black acid soul’ lives up to all the pre-release hype. Sad jazz/soul songs that give you goose bumps, rip your heart apart and then start to sooth it. Think smoky late-night Nina Simone or Mahalia Jackson. The music is stripped back to the essentials, minimalist in approach, but is done with such skill and quality that the work shines. Marley Munroe’s singing is flawless, searching and finding the emotional heart of each track. One of those releases that is bound to be on many people’s best of 2022 lists.

Visitor. / Empath
Mark: 2nd album for this Philly-based quartet, centred around singer/guitarist Catherine Elicson. Following on from 2019’s Active listening: night on Earth, this is a more polished take on their ramshackle pop-punk aesthetic. Brief catchy tunes with manic vocals move from overtly noisy to poppy. Very reminiscent of strains of 90s alt-pop. A lot of the tunes reminded me of a more aggressive version of cult band The Sundays.
Neil: Philadelphia pop-noise merchants Empath release their second album. In many ways ‘Visitor’ sticks in part to their punk roots. That said, they’ve also introduced a more languid dreamy and sedate aspect to this work, making their sound in many of the songs slower, clearer, and more chilled. These new elements give their latest outing a new sound and direction, and perhaps points the way to how future albums might sound. All in all, it sounds like a band who is both in transition and pushing forward.

Gifted. / Koffee
Mark: Koffee is the moniker of Mikayla Simpson, a young female Jamaican singer & rapper who has taken the Reggae world by storm. She became the first female artist ever to win the Grammy for best reggae album, for 2019’s EP ‘Rapture’, and has now delivered her full length debut album, ‘Gifted’. Mellow dancehall vibes meet modern pop stylings and propulsive Hip-Hop wordplay. While not particularly edgy or political, there is a charming earnestness to the album that floats along on a tide of easy going summery vibes. A great album for future beach parties.
Neil: In 2019, Koffee was the youngest ever winner ever of the Grammy for the Best Reggae Album for her EP ‘Rapture’. This, her debut full length album, is a breezy and bouncy good vibe outing which moves seamlessly between R&B, dancehall and especially Reggae. It is an uplifting, positivity laden, shot of summer good times wrapped in Jamaican glow. It will give even more fuel to the many people who have already heralded her as the new superstar of Reggae.

New CDs for Te Awe

New CDs March 2022


via GIPHY

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


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

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

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

New CDs for Te Awe

New CDs at Te Awe March


via GIPHY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staff Picks: The Best CDs of 2021

Image featuring some of our top picks


Mark’s Pick:
Vulture prince. / Aftab, Arooj [VINYL ONLY]
“Vulture Prince” is the third album from Brooklyn-based Pakistani composer Arooj Aftab. It made ‘Best of the Year’ picks even halfway through last year, and has been pressed on Vinyl 3 times since it came out last April – all of which sold out almost instantly. It’s critical & commercial success led to her being nominated for two Grammys, Best New Artist and Best Global Music Performance, as well as being signed to major label, Verve Records. An amazing sounding album, a mixture of chamber jazz, Hindustani classical minimalism & neo-Sufi, centered around her crystal clear voice. A truly beautiful and haunting work.

Mother. / Sol, Cleo
There was a lot of Neo-soul this year. A lot. I listened to a good percentage of it, and Cleo Sol’s ‘Mother’ was the best of the bunch. A mellow, tender, beautifully sung homage to motherhood. These lovely delicate songs have a real sense of intimacy, and at times the minimalist production from partner Inflo (who was recently announced as Producer of the Year in 2022’s Brit awards) makes you feel you are hearing a bunch of personal demos that were never meant to be shared.

Lindsey Buckingham. / Buckingham, Lindsey
The ex-Fleetwood Mac-er returns with a delayed album – originally cut in 2018. It is perhaps his most ‘pop’ outing and most FM sounding solo album yet. Mirage-era stylings, double tracked vocals, and catchy choruses surround a set of songs that focus on band & domestic disharmonies. Few artists of his generation can claim to be still making music this strong.

 

Shinji’s Pick’s:
Mother. / Sol, Cleo
A member of the London’s avant-soul unit ‘Sault’, Cleo Sol’s sophomore album is a reflection of herself having become a mother during the pandemic. It’s an intimate affair featuring medium/slow soul ballads. Surrounded by the warm, tender arrangements, her voice is charming and graceful.

 

Nine. / Sault 
Sault’ also released another edgy album ‘NINE’ – more personal than previous albums but black proud and social justice are still its core. The both are a must-listen.

 

 

What we call life. / Rakei, Jordan
The Tokoroa-born, sweet-sounding soul singer Jordan Rakei steadily developes his style with every outing. This latest album from Ninja Tune takes us on an intimate, emotional journey, showing his mutuality both as an artist and a person. His dance/house project Dan Kye’s ‘Small Moments’ (Vinyl only) is also quite good.

 

Harbour. / Herskedal, Daniel
Tuba is usually not considered a lead instrument, but the Norwegian tubaist Daniel Herkedal has made his mark as an outstanding player and band leader. Nature often inspires his works, in this album his trio brilliantly transforms images of Norwegian seaside into their music. You can feel a combination of warmth and cool air in the rich, open soundscapes that they create. Akin to ECM, it’s a sublime jazz album.

Phantasmagoria, or, A different kind of journey / Aarset, Eivind
Norwegian jazz guitarist Eivind Aarset is a master of creating inventive sonic layers and tonal richness. Aarset’s new album finds him in superb form. Showing impressive range, from the gentle ambient tracks to the eccentric guitar improvised prog-rock, it offers a sophisticated, expansive musical journey.

Becca Stevens & the Secret Trio. / Stevens, Becca
The ‘jazzy but not quite jazz’ singer Becca Stevens has worked with numerous artists, including David Crosby for his brilliant ‘Here If You Listen’. Her new project with the Secret Trio, who’s roots range from  Turkish to Armenian and Macedonian, offers a unique hybrid music of folk, jazz and world music. This work gets better with every listen.

 

The eternal rocks beneath. / Priddy, Katherine
Praised by the likes of Richard Thompson and Vashti Bunyan, young English folk singer Katherine Priddy debuted with an exceptional album. Showing her love of Nick Drake, her songs are alluring. The band supports marvellously, but it is her captivating voice that takes your breath away. Everything is so natural here, a promising a star is about to be born.

 

Invisible cities = Le città invisibili / Winged Victory for the Sullen
The 2021 album from this ambient duo is a collaboration with a theatre production, directed by London Olympics ceremony video designer Leo Warner. The show, in turn, was is based on Italo Calvino’s classic novel ‘Invisible Cities’. This duo, once again, has created a stunning score which masterfully weaves the medieval feeling into the ethereal, ambient soundscape. Sublime.

 

Déjà vu [deluxe] / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
[Box set/re-issue]
The 1970 original album climbed up to No.1 and stayed 88 weeks in the USA top 100 charts. In 2021, this iconic masterpiece finally got a deluxe edition (4CDs + 1LP). Including 38 tracks of demos and outtakes, a lot of tracks here have never been released before and, as well as this, they prove how genius these musicians are. The Laurel Canyon community also must have stimulated their creativity, which is evident in the intriguing documentary ‘Laurel Canyon’.

Kid A mnesia / Radiohead
[Box set/re-issue]
The 21st century opened with this revolutionary music. ‘Kid A’ (2000) and ‘Amnesiac’ (2001) were recorded together but issued a year apart. This re-issue offers previously unreleased tracks on the third disc, which is fascinating. Their bold creative mojo and exceptional talent made Radiohead a one-and-only supergroup. 20 years on, they are still standing tall.

Aretha. / Franklin, Aretha
Aretha Franklin, the ‘Queen of Soul’, had a career which spanned 6 decades, and this smartly compiled box set should be welcomed by both dedicated fans and novices to her music. It’s almost an ideal ‘best album’ of her music, and would be a wonderful accompaniment to the nice biographical film ‘Respect’.

 

Neil J’s Pick’s:
Promises / Floating Points
This is my person pick for best of 2021. Many albums strive to be as beautifully mellow and profoundly intense. They nearly always fail to some degree or another. This album is as close to perfection as I have heard in many a year, an outstanding masterpiece that will rightly regarded as such long after 2021 is a distant memory. Recorded over the course of five years, this album is a hybrid of ambient, free-form jazz and classical. The result is an album that is elegant, refined, and full of quiet moments of sonic beauty. Although it is an experimental album, it’s an exceptionally balanced, considered, and timeless work. To really appreciate it, a relaxed deep listen is highly recommended. A perfect way to unwind from the rigors of the day.

Nine. / Sault
The enigmatic and mysterious music collective Sault release another vital album. Unsurprisingly as an ever-changing music collective, there is a rich tapestry of sounds and approaches in ‘Nine’. The overall effect though feels totally unified and coherent. The tracks are urban, dark, and edgy with real grit. In the mix there are elements of rap, grime Afro Beat and even some Tom Tom’s club’s style funk. The content of the album is largely about growing up in modern London. This is a fresh and surprising album, stunning in its contemporary urgency.

Geist. / Lay, Shannon
Shannon Lay’s Geist is a deliberately wistful, transcendent, and spiritual album. Lay uses multi tracked choral vocals with a constantly flowing, and evolving acoustic guitar as its core. The effect is distinctive, expressive, quiet, and lovely. An evocative pastoral psychedelic folk work reminiscent of artists like Vashti Bunyan, I particularly enjoyed her cover of Syd Barrett’s ‘Late night’.

 

Buda / Buda, Luke
One of the core creative forces behind the mighty The Phoenix Foundation releases (with a lot of help from his friends) his third solo effort, this time simply called Buda. It is an impressive work, interspersed with a lot of the hallmark touches he brings to his other work in The Phoenix foundation. This album is wryly funny, poetic, serious when it needs to be and shows us why he is one of our finest musicians.

Black sea golden ladder. / Kingi, Troy
The supremely gifted musical chameleon that is Troy Kingi has shown his musical versatility over several wonderful albums on several occasions in recent years, but who would have thought that his latest musical incarnation would be as a mellow folk maestro? The resulting album is a beautiful, and chilled outing, like watching the sun go down on the fragile dream of a late autumn day. Delaney Davidson’s voice adds just a little grit and darkness to the proceedings.

M’berra / Khalab
This is one of those album’s that really transports the listener to new worlds. It is a collaborative work between electronic Italian D.J. Khalab and the M’berra Ensemble, a community of musicians living in the M’berra refugee camp. The resulting album, both ancient and futuristic, is a breath-taking work of fantastically sculptured tracks and diverse sounds, featuring a dazzling array of instruments from traditional Mali instruments to synth bass’s and guitar.

Bright green field. / Squid (Musical group)
An album of angular music, coupled with angry off kilter lyrics that illuminate the song writers’ discomfort with the modern World. In places, it sounds slightly reminiscent of an early English, pre-Eno, Talking Heads. Seemingly unconcerned about creating a single musical identity, they use whatever style suits that particular track from throwing in punk, krautrock, dub, jazz, and funk into this potent mix of an album.

New long leg. / Dry Cleaning (Musical group)
I really loved this album, it sounded new and fresh and vitally edgy. Managing to sound quirky, surreal, approachable and experimental all at the same time, is it a release I strongly suspect will be on lots of best of 2021 lists.

 

 

The new blue : Pixie Williams reimagined.
Pixie Williams was one of the first ever superstars of the New Zealand music scene. She was a trailblazing pioneer; her song ‘Blue smoke’ was a huge international hit in 1951 covered by many artists, including Dean Martin. A compilation of her work was recently rescued from oblivion, called For the record : the Pixie Williams collection, 1949-1951, and was rereleased in 2011. ‘The New Blue’ is a collection of modern NZ artists paying tribute to her and her art, covering her best known pieces fabulously well with style and panache. This is a perfectly executed, modern nostalgic time machine of an album.

Optimisme. / Songhoy Blues
Crossing musical and cultural boundaries at will, ‘Optimisme’ is a joyous explosion of an album. Driving percussion and scorching guitar riffs come together with political, social and personal lyrics that are sung in several languages and never sound laboured or preachy. The music is exhilarating and unstoppable, you cannot but help feel that many huge stadium acts would be jealous and in awe of the energy pouring out of this release.

 

Gus’ Picks:
The blue elephant. / Berry, Matt
Something I can only describe as “what if Tame Impala travelled back in time and did an album with the Kinks”. Hands down the best summer album of 2021.
Favourite track: Summer Sun

 

 

Skin. / Crookes, Joy
A polished, bold debut neo-soul album for anyone with an Amy Winehouse-sized hole in their heart.
Favourite track: Feet Don’t Fail Me Now

 

 

Prioritise pleasure. / Self Esteem
A pop solo act that goes big and goes hard one minute and becomes a tender pick-me-up the next. Everyone could use a little Self Esteem boost.
Favourite track: Prioritise Pleasure

 

 

Jubilee. / Japanese Breakfast
An eclectic album of 80s city pop, soft ballads, and dreamy croons. A balanced breakfast indeed.
Favourite track: Paprika

 

 

Call me if you get lost. / Tyler, the Creator
No-one quite nails the feeling unique to creatives of alternating triumph and melancholy quite like Tyler Baudelaire, aka Bunny Hop, aka Wolf Haley etc. etc. Call Me If You Get Lost is more of a fun mixtape jam session than the more emotionally introspective albums of his recent output, and while it took me a while to appreciate, by the end of 2021 it became a staple of my playlists.
Favourite track: CORSO

Dune : original motion picture soundtrack
The space bagpipes must flow! I, for one, am always up for a eardrum rattling from the Zimmer Man, and Dune does not disappoint. Combining electrified strings, throat singing, epic brass, Middle Eastern choirs and the aforementioned space bagpipes, this score truly worthy of a space epic.
Favourite track: Armada

 

Yasuke : music from the Netflix original anime series
With the anime Yasuke, Flying Lotus finally gets to lend his unique blend of hip hop and electronica to scoring an animated series, and he succeeds immensely. As Samurai Champloo creator (and one-time FlyLo collaborator) Shinichiro Watanabe proved, there’s something about blending hip hop and samurai that just works.
Favourite track: Your Day Off

 

Han’s Picks:
L.A.B. V. / L. A. B
Another awesome album from L.A.B, with songs that are funky, chilled out and make you automatically feel free and summery. Favourite tracks on this album are: ‘Under The Sun’, with it’s country twang and catchy chorus, ‘All Night’, which brings the groove and makes you want to dance and their latest smooth sounding single ‘Mr Reggae’.

 

Little oblivions. / Baker, Julien
An emotional outpouring of deep and self-loathing lyrics ,with a voice that is raw, vulnerable and magical, makes for a brilliant third solo album from Julien Baker.

 

 

Sour. / Rodrigo, Olivia
If you have ever had your heart broken and not been sure of yourself, then you will easily relate to the lyrics on this album. Songs like ‘Traitor’ and ‘Happier’ convey familiar feelings of being hurt by relationships breaking down. ‘Brutal’, the first track, is probably the best with all of her thoughts and annoyances with life on display in a snarly pop punk style. Very impressive debut album from this new pop superstar.

 

OK human. / Weezer
This is Weezer in a completely different form, with none of the guitar sound that is associated with the band. Instead, they have opted for an orchestral sound, which is new for them and definitely works as a change. The opening track ‘All My Favourite Songs’ is brilliant and the chorus is incredibly catchy and anthemic. ‘Grapes of Wrath’ is a big advert for Audible, but I don’t mind it as I like all the book references in that track. These songs were written during the pandemic and as a result are extremely relatable.

Van Weezer. / Weezer
In contrast to Ok Human, Van Weezer brings all the guitars back for a more familiar Weezer sound. On the track ‘The End of the Game’, the lyrics are “I know that you would crank this song, air guitaring with your headphones on”’ and it definitely makes me want to do that. So, turn it up and have some fun jumping up and down to this homage to Van Halen!

 

Greg’s Pick:
Leave love out of this. / Tonnon, Anthonie
If you don’t have children, you rely on friends and colleagues to recommend new music to you. This was recommended to me by Martin. This is pop music with social, political and economic messages woven easily and naturally through the lyrics. The title track was nominated for the 2021 Silver Scroll Award.

 

Joseph’s Pick’s:
Godzone. / Sulfate
[VINYL ONLY]
Godzone by Sulfate was a local standout for me.

 

 

 

Martin’s Pick:
Leave love out of this. / Tonnon, Anthonie
A strange mixture. This album sounds like a cross between Ultravox and Gary Numan with some distinctly New Zealand social commentary thrown in. In some ways the music is reminiscent of simple 80’s synth, which I like, but it is also the use of his voice that grabs the attention. It is at both very unmelodic almost banal, but with great range and control. It doesn’t sound, from what I have said, to be so good does it? But it is! It’s interesting, mostly uplifting and overall a joy to listen to. It’s different and fresh and I think positive, which is a rare thing in these times.

Mikaela’s Pick’s:
Jubilee. / Japanese Breakfast

 

 

 

 


Charlotte’s Picks:
Collapsed in sunbeams. / Parks, Arlo
Chemtrails over the country club. / Del Rey, Lana
In these silent days. / Carlile, Brandi
Valentine. / Snail Mail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Neil P’s Picks:
De pelicula / Limiñanas
Earth trip. / Rose City Band
Comfort to me. / Amyl and the Sniffers
Afrique victime. / Moctar, Mdou
Yol. / Altın Gün
Henki / Dawson, Richard
La Luz. / La Luz
Sometimes I might be introvert. / Little Simz
Introducing… Aaron Frazer. / Frazer, Aaron
Invisible cities = Le città invisibili / Winged Victory for the Sullen
Genesis. / Xixa
Forest of your problems. / Snapped Ankles
Black sea golden ladder. / Kingi, Troy
Pale horse rider. / Hanson, Cory
Geist. / Lay, Shannon


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New CDs for Te Awe

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


via GIPHY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New CDs for Te Awe

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

via GIPHY

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

Buda / Buda, Luke
Mark: Luke Buda returns with his first solo album since 2008’s Vesuvius. Organs and synths fade in and out in a set of woozy pop that focuses on the travails of aging bodies, domesticity and happiness amid global chaos. Three tracks features lyrics by author and poet Damian Wilkins & other collaborators include Don McGlashan, Joe Lindsey and Toby Laing from Fat Freddy’s Drop, Riki Gooch, and Anita Clarke from Motte, who sings on every track. A great fun, catchy, self deprecating album, whose reflective moments pull the threads of everyday life with revealing lines that stick with you. Well deserving of all the good reviews its been getting.
Neil: One of the core creative forces behind the mighty The Phoenix Foundation releases (with a lot of help from his friends) his third solo effort, this time simply called Buda. It is an impressive work, interspersed with a lot of the hallmark touches he brings to his other work in The Phoenix foundation. Wryly funny, poetic, serious when it needs to be, and it shows us why he is one of our finest musicians.

Come play the trees. / Snapped Ankles (Musical group)
Mark: Mysterious and unknown London-based post-punk band who wear ghillie suits when performing. DIY electronica meets Krautrock/Art-rock, with vintage synths underpinning the cacophony. I’m not sure what it was all about though…
Neil: Snapped Ankles 2017 debut release ‘Come Play the Trees’ sees a different side of the band from their live performances. Their well reported incendiary live performances are replaced with an experimental electronic Shamanistic vibe ,with propulsive post punk stylings that have nods to Afro-futurism. It’s a heady mix with deliberately obscure and mysterious. Lyrics rubbing shoulder by shoulder with socio political statements. All very strange and intriguing. Imagine a pagan shaman musician in an ancient forest, creating music from synthesisers he has created from the surrounding trees.

Lindsey Buckingham. / Buckingham, Lindsey
Mark: The ex-Fleetwood Mac-er returns with a delayed album – originally cut in 2018. Perhaps his most ‘pop’ outing and most FM sounding solo album yet. Mirage-era stylings, double tracked vocals, and catchy choruses surround a set of songs that focus on band & domestic disharmonies. Few artists of his generation can claim to be still making music this strong.
Neil: The first solo album in ten years for the ex-Fleetwood Mac stalwart. And he is not happy. His troubled private life has been well documented (often in music). And emergency life saving Heart surgery in 2019, not to mention Covid, have only sharpened his unease and the associated disquiet. It is all couched, as you would expect, in a very polished outing; very melodic in Buckingham’s unique fashion, with occasionally oblique & sometimes razor-sharp lyrics. An album that I suspect will be well received by fans and indeed well beyond.

Year of the spider / Shannon and the Clams (Musical group)
Mark: Melding old 50s Rock N Roll, 60s Girl group & 70s punk vibes, Oakland California’s Shannon & the Clams are one of those under the radar bands that have broken through with their latest album ‘Year of the spider’, a more polished effort produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. More lyrically personal songs, along with crafted backing, elevate their retro-stylings into something original, rather than just an exercise in nostalgia or homage.
Neil: Fuzz box welding Oakland retro rock band Shannon and the Clams really mix it up in this rip-roaring mash up of genres and styles. There are elements of 60’s doo wop, psychedelic moments gritty garage rock and a few other genres thrown in. Nearly all originating in the 60’s or early 70’s. The lyrical content is rooted in the band’s personal troubles, and there definitely individual darkness in there. And it is that dark and personal lyrical content that makes the band sound like themselves, rather than a lot of influences, and that really glues the whole album into a cohesive work.

The ballad of Dood & Juanita / Simpson, Sturgill
Mark: Bluegrass country ‘concept’ album about Civil War Military Veteran (Dood) and his trusty steed Shamrock (a donkey), who pursue an outlaw that has abducted his wife (Juanita) to seek vengeance. Another left turn for Sturgill Simpson, supposedly inspired by his Grandfather & Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger. A cinematic Mini-Epic that plays out like an old Black & White Western, as a good man is forced to take up guns for a righteous cause one more time.
Neil: The title of this album, and artwork, very accurately lets you know what you are going to be listening too once you put this album on. A modern Bluegrass concept album, based on tales of Kentucky legends from America’s past. Brought to life by some of the Bluegrass scene’s finest modern exponents. Cowboy tales of feuds and gunfights, horses, and hound dogs. It is all very well-done; a modern recreation of frontier myth-making music, and lots of fun besides.

Iris / Fountain, Reb
Mark: Have to admit I haven’t listened to any of her previous albums, so can’t say if this album is indicative of her overall catalogue. To me, ‘Iris’ sounds musically a lot like Taylor Swift’s folky storytelling from Evermore, or a more moody Suzanne Vega. If Noir-ish folk is your thing, you’ll like this.
Neil: ‘Iris’ is one of those albums written and curated during lockdown. We are very fortunate to have it, as in other versions of reality Reb would have been touring the World gaining legions of fans, instead of finding herself stuck in a pandemic lockdown. ‘Iris’ is a piano driven, often dark and unsettling work, moody, romantic, dreamlike, and poetic. From the opening track ‘Psyche’, the listener is drawn into her sonic world, and Reb (one of the key players in New Zealand’s alt-folk scene) has created a complete and highly accomplished work. Highly recommended.

Old gods. / Shihad
Mark: Strong political & social commentary wrapped up in hard rocking riffs. Jon Toogood’s vocals always sounds ageless. Stradling countries and cultures has given Toogood a deeper perspective, that infuses the bands patented hard rock with added depth.
Neil: A new release from one of New Zealand’s most beloved bands. It’s an album fuelled by righteous angry frustration, and the music shows it. A riff heavy assault of huge guitars in full sonic assault mode, coupled with deep, deep, bass and carefully placed vocals that miraculously don’t get lost in the mix. This album will surely serve as the basis for a massive ear-splitting, adrenalin pumping,?; live tour sometime in the future.

Local valley. / González, José
Mark: The Swedish singer/songwriter returns after a 6 year break. Mellow pastoral folky pop that looks forward with optimism and hope, while relaxing you in the present.
Neil: The ultra-cool, mega mellow smooth as silk voiced Jose González releases his fourth studio album. There’s no radical reinvention or wild sonic exploration going on here, and why should there be? His distinctive intimate fingerpicking, spare arrangements, and honeyed voice serves his muse very well. Music that sounds like a sweet dream, like murmurs of someone trying to lull you to sleep in the nicest possible way.

If I can’t have love, I want power. / Halsey
Mark: New York singer-songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Ashley Frangipane (AKA Halsey) returns with 4th album teaming with Nine Inch Nails duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Big names like Lindsey Buckingham guest on “Darling”, and Dave Grohl on “Honey”. This got a lot of critical attention & good reviews, but it all seems a bit over the top and dated somehow. Auto-tuned pop-punk with gothic sensibilities. A pop singer trying to make an ‘edgy’ album, rather than someone with genuine musical edge.
Neil: Pop sensibilities meet deliberately constructed Gothic, fairy-tale, music in Halsey’s fourth album, produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The result is in places cool, clear light on water, pop production; and in others brooding, lurking, spectral, tightly controlled, under the surface intensity. The lyrics explore Halseys rise to stardom, various aspects of her recent motherhood, and destructive and chaotic aspects of life. My reservation is that it does all sound a bit contrived and over wrought, but that could just be the theatrical nature of the album. Why not give it a listen, and make up your own mind as to which side of the fence you think it falls on.

Dunedin spleen. / Verlaines
Mark: Another solid album from the Dunedin outfit. Classic jangly guitar rock combines with more arty angular tracks, that dig deep into plenty of issues current to life in NZ. Final track ‘Way To Old To Grow Up Now’ provides a musical metaphor for a band who keep finding new things to say musically & lyrically, while never resting on their laurels.
Neil: The legendary Dunedin band The Verlaine’s have just released their 10th album. And Graeme Downes, the bands long time songwriter, guitarist and lead vocalist, has built up a lot to say since their last release, this album weighing in with a hefty 19 tracks. Their distinctive trademark sound fuses elements of indie rock, Punk, and Alt Art rock into their own unique Verlaine sound. The result is as sharp and clear eyed as any of their previously works proving, as if there was any doubt, that they are still far from a nostalgia act from the past.

Sometimes I might be introvert. / Little Simz
Mark: UK rapper’s follow up to her Mercury Prize-nominated third album is a masterclass in modern Rap-Soul. Deep songs with great flow address being a black woman in the UK, the cost of success against your privacy, and issues surrounding her personal life. Plenty of interesting collaborations, with ‘Woman’ featuring Cleo Sol (Sault), ‘Two Worlds Apart’ featuring a great Smokey Robinson interpolation, and Nigerian singer Obongjayar guesting on the Afrobeat-inspired ‘Point and Kill’.
Neil: The fourth album from the British rapper Little Simz, is a dynamic balancing act between the public and the private. In places it is heavily orchestrated, featuring lush and luxurious strings, horn sections, choral flourishes, and a whole plethora of musicians; in other parts, it is a much more stripped back and intimate affair. This is rap music on the grandest of scales, yet it retains the personal aspect thanks to the confessional nature of tracks such as ‘I love you, I hate you’.

Tangaroa. / Alien Weaponry
Mark: Alien Weaponry return with their 2nd album. If you haven’t heard their debut album, imagine the Haka set to metal riffs, and that kind of sets the tone for their sophomore effort. ‘Tangaroa’ explores their Maori heritage, via native Maori stories reflecting contemporary issues, all set to a soundtrack of pummelling Metal drums and swaths of furious guitars.
Neil: The mighty Kiwi metal maniacs Alien Weaponry build on the form, shape and success of their intense debut LP outing ‘Tū’. ‘Tangaroa’, their sophomore album, is a relentless and hard-hitting call to arms and action, on a range of issues, from climate change to illegal fishing and some of the more troubled moments in Aotearoa / New Zealand’s history. Fans of their previous work will not be disappointed.

Habibi Funk : an eclectic selection of music from the Arab world. Part 2.
Mark: A follow up to the original 2017 compilation from the crate-digging Habibi label. A selection of funky, sinuous tracks that resonate with an otherworldly sense of time and soul. The bands and singers embrace, distort and offer up their own take on a surprising array of western music influences, from Reggae, Stax type soul, to 70s funk & Disco. Never a dull moment across the whole CD.
Neil: Seemingly compiled by raking through vinyl crates in record stores in the Arab world, this eclectic mixture of music features tracks from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. The tracks sound like music that has originated in a slightly altered parallel universe, close to our own but not quite the same. Imagine music to accompany an Arab world James Bond movie; or a Sudanese disco track that sounds vaguely like Madonna; or long-lost Arab World version of Ennio Morricone soundtracks. It all makes for a rather wonderful mixed bag of Sounds. Like a distorted mirror held up to various musical genres: at one level vaguely familiar, at another strangely Different.

Bills & Aches & Blues.
Mark: Compilation celebrating 40 years of the 4AD label, where contemporary artists put a new spin on older & newer 4AD classics. A bit hit & miss, like all compilations of this type. Perhaps functions better as a primer for a younger generation to seek out and explore the labels back catalogue.
Neil: A charity compilation album built around and celebrating 40 years of the venerable London based arty 4AD label that defined much of the best alternative music of the 80’s and 90’s. The rich diversity of the artists on the legendary label’s rota are well represented in this compilation, named after a Cocteau Twins track. And the range of tracks chosen, and the artists who cover them, is eclectic to say the least. And that basically is both the strength and weakness of this mixed bag of covers. Something for everyone, but not necessarily everything for everyone.

Back to the light. / May, Brian
Mark: Brian May Rocks You! with this Deluxe reissue of his first solo outing from 1992. He goes for a bit more of a hard rock sound than Queen at that point in time, but also tries to throw in a bit of everything else, from ballads to Country – no doubt to make a claim to his musical versatility. However this tends to pull the album down at certain points, with some weak lyrics and lightweight production on some tracks. As a singer he’s no Freddie, but he handles all the albums musical styles well enough. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a Queen fan.
Neil: A newly polished re-release of guitar god, and all-round good bloke, Brian Mays’s 1992 solo album. Perhaps not unexpectedly the result is a huge bombastic beast of an album with, surprise surprise, monstrous Queen like guitar riffs at every cut and turn. It’s a good hard rock album, but that said you can’t help having the suspicion that the whole endeavour would have had the makings of a classic rock album had the creative energies and inputs of his fellow Queen band mates been involved.

Good good feeling! : more Motown girls.
Mark: Part of the ongoing Motown Guys/Motown Girls reissue series from UK label Ace Records. These reissues round up some previously unreleased material from the vaults, along with tracks that were only available digitally as part of the ‘Motown Unreleased’ 1963-69 Copyright Extension Collections. Motown would just cut the same song on multiple artists until they felt they had a ‘hit, so there is an argument that this is just a lot of Motown filler that was never released for a reason. However, the average Motown track is still better than most of what passes for neo-soul today. Plenty of catchy & soulful grooves from familiar & lesser known Motown artists.
Neil: During its golden era from approx. 1965 to 1969 the Motown label could do no wrong, creating music that was to come to represent and become the soundtrack for a point, place, and time in American history. And this compilation from the likes of Glady’s Knight & the pips and Martha and the Vandellas, and a whole host of lesser-known female artists on the label, amply shows why, with well-known tracks alonside a few unreleased gems.

K bay. / White, Matthew E.
Mark: Third solo album for Matthew E. White and his blend of retro 60s/70s styles (reggae, vintage pop & R&B). More genres collide on his latest offering, not just within the album itself but also within tracks. A bit like someone crate-digging through their record collection, playing you something different with each track, or swapping genres halfway through a song, like the great track ‘Take Your Time (And Find That Orange to Squeeze)’, There’s a lot of musical textures at play, but it’s a testament to White’s talent that he makes it all work together in a seemingly effortless sprawl.
Neil:: Mathew E White steeps himself in the audio sensibilities of popular American music of the 1960’s and 70’s, without ever slavishly following it. Reputedly his Space Bomb studio is awash with vintage analogue equipment, and you can tell the warm analogue sound of this gear as it seeps into every pore of this release, which is also clearly infused with Mathew Whites own unique personality.

Refuge / Banhart, Devendra
Mark: Mellow instrumental album from the folky Devendra Banhart & producer/engineer Noah Georgeson. Inspired by their parents involvement in New Age culture when they were children, both artists had an interest in meditative ambient music, which they finally realized with this project during some time spent in quarantine. Soothing synthy reverbs, plucked harps and washes of strings. Atmospheric & quietly moving.
Neil: There is a but discernible thin line between the ambient artistically focussed works of people like Brian Eno or Jon Hassell, and the more meditative, mindful of the moment, relaxation music often described as New age music. And Refuge sits in the more meditative camp; long sustained chamber drones, with very slowly and sparsely placed ambient piano interwoven and intertwined amongst it. That’s not to deride this work; it is perfect background music to relax and unwind to, and I suspect that was the intent of the musicians who created it.

Directions in music, 1969 to 1973.
Mark: Every direction Jazz took after Miles Davis’ 2nd Quintet broke up in 1968 was the wrong one…
Neil: In the very late 60’s and early 70’s the ever-evolving musical medium of Jazz was at a crossroads. It had already moved through a plethora of forms since its creation: Swing and Dixieland to Trad and mainstream, on through Bebop and cool Jazz, and was now looking for a new direction a new place to expand into. Directions in music, 1969 to 1973 is a delicious snapshot of this creative cauldron of sound. And features all the key players such as Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and of course Miles Davis. It doesn’t quite reach out into the intense experimentation of the outer reaches of Jazz at the time, such as Bitches Brew, but is a slightly more gentle introduction to what was in the air at that time. And it could be said that in many senses after this creative explosion Jazz never found its way forward again, instead working around the filaments of creative energy from this moment and its past.

Box Set Pick:
Feel flows : the Sunflower & Surf’s up sessions 1969-1971 / Beach Boys
Mark: I always thought ‘Sunflower’ was a solid album, with ‘Surf’s Up’ less so. This massive 5-disc Boxset excavates the Beach Boys vaults for dozens of previously unreleased outtakes, alternate mixes, and a bunch of related tracks recorded at the same time. With Brian Wilson taking a less active role in the writing, other members of the group stepped up, resulting in a sometimes awkward melding of both forward and backward looking tracks & styles. There’s a lot of good music here that sits outside of the proper albums, but to hear it you do have to wade through quite a lot of less than good music. Perhaps one of those sets where it’s best to create your own preferred version of from the wealth of tracks on hand.
Neil: After the (well documented) fallout surrounding the events of the legendary Smile album, it is safe to say The Beach Boys were never the same again. Indeed, there are fragments from the Smile project dotted amongst these two albums. Their creative leader Brian literally went to bed and only occasionally put in appearances. That meant that the other Beach Boys had to step up to the creative plate. And this box set shows very well what that meant. There are some superb tracks (indeed some of the songs in this box set are amongst the Beach Boys best). Which is saying a lot, as they created some of the finest songs and albums of all time. However, there are also some much weaker works. The poorest pieces are sugar saccharine, middle of the road, songs that sounded dated and corny even when they were originally released. But the good stuff Wow! So, all in all a mixed bag, but if you are happy to sift through it all there are some total gems in amongst the corn.