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


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.

September’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 1


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

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

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.

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


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.

July’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 2

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

How to let go. / Sigrid
Mark: Sigrid is a Norwegian pop singer. After her debut EP in 2017 she won the BBC Music Sound of 2018, and her 2019 debut Sucker Punch was a smash hit globally. ‘How to Let Go’ follows on from her debut with more propulsive pop, with a more assured and personal maturation. Clubby bangers sit next to piano based introspection, all of which focuses on themes of positive messaging to young women, taking charge of your life, and leaving behind people and feelings that hold you back. It’s easy to see fellow Scandinavian artists like Lykke Li, and early Robyn as influences, but she follows her own path. Modern pop at its best.

Neil: Sigrid’s ‘How to let go’ is a cathartic, euphoric, uplifting, hugely optimistic, and full of rose-tinted joy release. An easy-to-listen-to sugar rush of a feel-good pop album, that deliberately aims for fun and straight-down-the-line pop, with anthemic lyrics, and feel-good positive vibes that prevail above all else.

Giving the world away. / Hatchie
Mark: The second full-length album from Brisbane’s Harriette Pilbeam, who records under the moniker Hatchie, breaks away from the simplicity of her previous work. The Covid lockdown spurred her to look inward and focus on making music with a deeper lyrical bent. Jorge Elbrecht (Sky Ferreira, Japanese Breakfast) produces and Olivia Rodrigo has a writing collaboration on Quicksand, which is indicative of the new level she has reached. A showcase of super catchy dream-pop & hooky shoegaze, that melds the Cocteau Twins (Robin Guthrie remixed an early single) with Natalie Imbruglia.

Neil: ‘Giving the world away’ by Hatchie is an Australian dream pop outing replete with fuzzy reverbed guitars and sweet ghost vibe vocals. It’s a sparking, glittering effort with indie sensibilities, and with sonic nods to the likes of Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins especially with regards to those guitar sounds. This, her second release, sounds more mature, expansive, and rounded, with lyrics that largely focus on dreamy pandemic introspection.

Radiate like this. / Warpaint
Mark: The female LA indie rockers return after a 6 year break. 2016’s Heads Up seems a long time ago in the scheme of things, and the bands new music was directly affected by the last few years. With parts recorded separately, the album feels more layered and introspective, less arty rock and more warmer synths. The dreamy vocals curl around the songs, creating a smoky late night vibe. A moody album that seems full of slow gossamer production that drifts over you, but reveals more with each listen.

Neil: It has been six years since Warpaints last release, but you would never suspect it from listening to their new release: a confident spacy intricate dream-pop work, with a sense of itself and displaying no sense of trepidation. ‘Radiate like this’ solidifies their unique lyrical approach, which is displayed to great effect in the studied ambiguity behind much of their lyrical content. A sophisticated indie-pop release with shoegaze inflections, the album displays a languid beauty, and is another release that repays repeated listens.

KiCk i. / Arca
Mark: The 2020 fourth album from Venezuelan boundary pushing electronic singer-composer-producer Alejandra Ghersi, AKA Arca, and the first album as an openly non-binary artist, after 2017’s Arca. The ‘KiCk’ project includes another 4 albums that were all released in late 2021. Collaborators on this installment include Bjork, Shygirl, Rosalia & Sophie. It’s almost impossible to encapsulate the music happening here: rattling shifts between hip-hop, reggaeton, glitchy noise, IDM, hyper-pop, Venezuelan party music, soaring vocal ballads, all create a kind of sensory overload. The stylistic clashes can come off as grating, but there is so much going on that each track takes you in a new direction. There’s much to appreciate here if you commit to the album as whole and embrace her deconstructionist experimental style.

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

Ivory. / Apollo, Omar
Mark: The full length debut from this Indiana artist. Beginning as a teen making lo-fi bedroom pop, he scored some high profile single collaborations, but this debut has been a long time in gestation. Listening you can immediately tell why: every element has been carefully considered & constructed from the crisp production, the sweetly soulful double tracked falsetto vocals, the easy shift between bedroom pop, R&B, Hip-Hop, and acoustic guitar. So many albums shift genres, but few do it with a cohesiveness as this. His beguiling voice makes it all seem so natural.

Neil: Omar Apollo has shifted his musical focus in ‘Ivory’ his latest release, moving away from being a purely R&B artist, to becoming a more diverse and genre jumping musician – though R&B is still the core influence here. In working with a wider and much more expansive pallet, he gives himself so many more musical options to explore, with his trademark falsetto voice still very much to the fore. He manages to do this all without the tracks sounding forced or contrived and has created one of those albums in which the artist reimagines himself, and in doing so, re-calibrates his musical horizons.

Down every road. / Reed, Eli “Paperboy”
Mark: Eli “Paperboy” Reed is best known as a retro-soul-blues revivalist, but his latest album takes a new direction, tackling the songs of Country legend Merle Haggard. A traditionalist, Reed imbues these tracks with plenty of Stax & Muscle Shoals styled southern soul elements. Woodwinds, two saxes, a trumpet and a trombone complement his own quartet without eclipsing the emotional centre of any the songs, and his rugged voice fits crisply into this short set of well arranged slow-burning tracks. Makes a valid case that the lines between Country and Soul were never as broad as they seemed. We also just purchased a Merle Haggard box set, so if you want to compare these versions to the originals check this out: Merle Haggard – Down every road : 1962-1994.

Neil: This raw and inspired country, soul album features twelve songs from Merle Haggard, and unusually passes on the usual country approach to Haggard’s songs, opting instead for a more soul vibe reminiscent of the Stax records studio inhouse sound. It works well, as the soul belter approach to the material fits the selected material perfectly, and it all sounds like an album that could have easily been released in the late 60’s or early 70’s – which is obviously the intention.

Chelsea Jade’s soft spot. / Chelsea Jade
Mark: Sophomore album from the underrated NZ singer. Arguably as good as Lorde or Benee she has yet to achieve the success of those artists. Synthy airy electro-pop, sinuous dreamy vocals and sensual lyrics. Only 9 tracks but it feels like a full album of ideas & moods.

Neil: New Zealander Chelsea Jade releases her second album. Now resident in L.A. the move has widened her musical vocabulary Soft spot is replete with relatable and accessible pop songs that reveal a deeper edge than most in the genre. They show a surprisingly mellow, vulnerable, seductive, and beautiful side to her work. It was her friend Lorde who persuaded her to release her first album and perhaps this is the one that will finally push her into the limelight of stardom.

Breaking the thermometer. / McCalla, Leyla
Mark: The 4th album from this Haitian-American singer, songwriter, arranger, cellist, and multi-instrumentalist, who is also a member of folk-roots supergroup Our Native Daughters along with Rhiannon Giddens, Allison Russell, and Amythyst Kiah. This project was commissioned by Duke University in North Carolina, and digs into the Haitian past of of racial, social, and political unrest & the role of Radio Haiti during the oppressive regimes of the republic. If this all sounds very academic the music is anything but. Jazz tinged vocals, songs in English & French, spoken word passages from people detailing their experiences, form a melancholy yet ultimately hopeful ode to her ancestry & history. A truly unique listen.

Neil: Sung mostly in Creole Leyla McCalla explores her ancestral roots in Haiti, after being asked to interact with the Radio Haiti archive. The resulting album has a multimedia feel to it, with archival audio clips from the station interspersed with songs about the station, and the wider political and social situation it frequently reported on. Radio Haiti the station confronted, often at great personal risk, the brutality and corruption of successive regimes in Haiti. It is a potent work that showcases Leyla’s unique and distinctive voice, evident both in her singing and her musical arrangements. There are sophisticated passages of afro-Caribbean rhythms, as well as Latin-American influenced Cello’s, guitars, and banjos amongst other instruments. It is superbly executed and well worth the listeners attention.

July’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 1


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

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

I’ve felt all these things. / Leone, Anna
Mark: The debut album from this Swedish singer-songwriter, whose acclaimed 2018 EP Wandered Away clocked up 18 million streams. Melancholy, tranquil, folk-pop, described by the singer herself as an exploration of “healing and solitude”. The apparent simplicity of the songs, hides layers of choral vocals, analogue atmospheric sounds and lo-fi guitars, while the lyrics explore introversion, loneliness & the alienation of the internet generation. However there is a sense of catharsis, that triumphs over the sombre tone of the album & its inherent sadness.
Neil: Swedish singer songwriter Anna Leone’s latest album mines a rich stream of blues folk music to create its highly introspective sound, and it’s a gentle and reflective listen, with delicate moments of intimacy. That said, when it is necessary it never shies away from covering occasionally bleak or sad emotions. Beautiful and plaintive.

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

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
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

Image featuring album art from this blog's list.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Music for your Lockdown listening!

I’m Mark, the Customer Specialist for Music & Film at Wellington City Libraries. Luckily for you (or perhaps not) thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the musical bromance my colleague Neil & I share can continue unabated during lockdown. We sifted through some of the new material we have been buying for the Music collection at our CBD Te Awe library to do some reviews for you, so you can now check out some new music during lockdown with the confidence that it won’t all be total rubbish and a complete waste of time…
[Note: With the exception of Disc 2 of the Jimmy London album, all of these titles are on Spotify. However, if you enjoy some of them please take the time to reserve them online, and show our collection some love when the Library reopens.]


For free. / Crosby, David
Mark: Another strong entry in Crosby’s late career resurgence, with a mellow AOR sheen. Guests Michael MacDonald & Donald Fagan lend further gloss to this smooth album of relaxed harmonies, and 70s vibes. A solid set of songs reflect on growing old, regret, loss and perseverance.
Neil: For an artist totally written off as a drug casualty in the 80’s, David Crosby has in the last twenty years or so staged a truly miraculous revival releasing a series of solo works that rank amongst some of his best work. And considering his output in the late 60s and 70s that is saying a lot. And ‘For Free’ stands as one of these renaissance classics it is a poignant meditation on his own mortality, AND a beautifully constructed and sung album. Songs about life, love, the past and the present, and death. The inner and outer worlds of life as he has experienced them and as he sees them now.

Bridge over troubled waters. / London, Jimmy
Mark: Cheery Red resurrects overlooked Jamaican Reggae crooner Jimmy London with his rare 1972 album reissued with 4 bonus tracks, along with a 2nd compilation disc of tracks from Trojan’s Randy’s subsidiary label. His sweet pure voice lends a wistful romantic tone to these soulful tracks of love & longing.
Neil: Very welcome release of Jimmy London’s classic 1972 album ‘Bridge over troubled waters’. A reggae rock steady masterpiece, the track “A little love” was used by the then major of London Ken Livingston to promote the city.

Quietly blowing it. / Hiss Golden Messenger
Mark: Vocalist/songwriter M.C. Taylor returns with another album under the Hiss Golden Messenger moniker. A melange of Alt-Country, Folk/Pop, and slow 70s grooves provide the backdrop for a melancholic and sometimes angry look at the world of 2021. Rootsy back porch meditations set to upbeat melodies, that aim to provide a sense of optimism going forward.
Neil: A soothing rustic chilled Americana album with country folk stylings recorded, like a lot of recent work, in isolation during the early months of the pandemic in North Carolina. A calming album for troubled times.

Stand for myself. / Yola
Mark: Yolanda Quartey is a UK singer (now based in Nashville) with a love for late 60s/70’s artists who amalgamated R&B, Pop & Country. Producer Dan Auerbach creates a lush layered vintage sound that steeps Yola’s amazing voice in classic style & grooves, built around her strong original songs addressing contemporary themes. Shades of Tina Turner, Minnie Ripperton or Bettye Swann. An impressive follow up to 2019’s acclaimed Walk Through Fire.
Neil: Yola”s sophomore album is another Covid creation in which Yola took the opportunity step away from the star making machine and instead to look deep into who she is and wants to identify herself as, and places this firmly at the core of this album. It is an accomplished and genre jumping work that reminded me in places of some of the great Disco, soul R n B albums of the 70s and 80s, mainly thanks to Yola’s voice, which is set amongst unvarnished, unprocessed musical backings.

Yacht soul : the cover versions.
Mark: This cool compilation turns the tables on white musicians appropriating black music, by gathering together a bunch of Soul artists who interpreted various white MOR 70s FM and 80’s ‘Yacht Rock’ tracks. Unsurprisingly Aretha, Chaka Khan, Billy Paul, Millie Jackson et all add a layer of funky grooves to these white bread staples. Sadly the version of Seals & Crofts ‘Summer Breeze’ is from The Main Ingredient instead of the Isley Brothers version. Still good though…
Neil: Funky, smooth, soulful cover versions of classic AOR, Laurel Canyon Hippie classics with most of the tracks originating in the 70’s and 80’s. It shouldn’t work but it does. Two very different genres looking at each other and bringing out something new and rather wonderful. Imaging sailing on a beautiful summer’s day in 1974 with friends.

Animal. / Lump
Mark: The 2018 album from this side project of Laura Marling and Tunng’s Mike Lindsay seemed a a one-off, but they are back with more weird dynamics. The aim seems to be just to see where their disparate styles take them – through dark lyrics underpinned by meandering folktronica melodies, odd shifts & time signatures. I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t seem to go anywhere. Tracy Thorn does this sort of thing far better.
Neil: Mike Lindsay (of Tunng) creates the musical settings whilst Laura Marling supplies the vocals and lyrics, The resulting album is a glittering genre mashing, boundary pushing collection of tracks, the duo are obviously well up some musical explorations, it very occasionally reminded me of Radiohead esp. some of the oblique and odd imagery employed in some of the lyrics, and also some of the angular minimalist musical settings.

Mirror II / Goon Sax
Mark: Goon Sax were still at school when their 2016 debut album Up to Anything came out. Their cute indie-pop garnered natural comparisons to the Go-Betweens, given that frontman Louis Forster is the son of Go-Betweens Robert Forster. ‘Mirror II’ is their 3rd album, following 2018’s We’re not talking, and they eschew the Beat Happening 80s sound of their previous work for a full on dive into the 90s sound with Lemonhead-esque pop, shoegazzy guitars, male/female vocals and new wavey synths. Each member now shares vocal duties and have developed their own particular style as they have grown musically over the course of 3 albums. And ‘growing up’ is really what their song are about – the awkwardness & messy discontent of being young people at this current point in time. Their best album so far.
Neil: The Brisbane dolewave trio’s latest release revels in the complexities, difficulties and embossments associated with being a twenty-something in modern day Australia. Post punk young adult angst for the 21st Century.

Outside child. / Russell, Allison
Mark: Critically lauded solo debut from Montreal native and veteran of the Roots scene with bands Po’ Girl, Birds of Chicago & roots supergroup Our Native Daughters, which also features Rhiannon Giddens. The gentle, enveloping, music with its beautiful layered arrangements frames a haunting ‘musical memoir’, re-telling an upbringing of childhood sexual abuse and street living. It all sounds a pretty heavy listen, but there is a lightness to the melodic, organic, music that enlivens the weighty backstory. Full of powerful odes to her past self and experiences, as well as the city and music that gave her new hope. Sure to be a Grammy nominee and wind up on the Best of 2021 lists at the end of the year.
Neil: French Canadian singer Allison Russell’s impressive debut album is a deep soulful work, hotly tipped by many as one of the albums of the year. It is styled a beautiful classic soul pop album that showcases her gorgeous voice in a series of melodic tracks. Behind the surface production and beauty is an album that is, on occasion, starkly dark and heart rendering. Lyrics about her own childhood abuse and recovery are set in an often-uplifting survivor context.

Exit wounds / Wallflowers
Mark: Jakob Dylan’s band The Wallflowers were essentially a revolving door of different studio & live musicians based around his writing, which led to certain conflicts along the way in terms of the ability to execute his songs. With his return after a 9 year break, Dylan sounds much more comfortable with the bands classic roots-rock sound than on previous album, 2012’s Glad All Over, which never really gelled. A nice set of solid melodic songs about life’s struggles are a reminder of why they were such a consistently good band. Shelby Lynne provides nice harmony vocals on 4 tracks.
Neil: Considering the fact that his father is Bob Dylan and his upbringing was steeped in music it is no surprise that Jakob Dylan, the self-styled cowboy troubadour, is such a gifted and highly literate musician. However, Jacob brings more than his background to the Wallflowers outfit, he also brings passion and personal reflection to his work, perhaps even most pointedly in this his latest outing ‘Exit Wounds’. If you’re a fan of classic 70’s American folk rock or highway ballads, then this album should be right up your street.

Pale horse rider. / Hanson, Cory
Mark: Melancholic folky meditations from the frontman of LA art-rockers Wand. His second solo album, after 2016’s The Unborn Capitalist from Limbo, is pure Americana. Waves of lush lilting arrangements wrap around his mellow gentle vocals. The musical equivalent of a calming walk through a meditative landscape whilst staring up at the stars.
Neil: Another isolation album this time recorded in the Mojave Desert whilst surrounded by cacti and majestic desolate nature. The resulting work is a kind of psychedelic cowboy fantasy, all plaintive steel guitars, drifting sands and sun lazy weirdness, but infused with a gentle vibe throughout.

Love drips and gathers. / Piroshka
Mark: Piroshka is an English Indie-pop supergroup with Lush’s Miki Berenyi, Elastica’s Justin Welch, Moose’s K.J. McKillop, and Modern English’s Mick Conroy, that emerged from the Lush 2015-6 reunion line-up. Following on from their 2019 debut Brickbat, their new album focuses more on their dreamy shoegaze style, rather than some of the New Wave elements introduced on their debut, with strings swirling around layered instruments and vocals. Well worth checking out of you were a Lush fan. And who wasn’t, really?
Neil: A subtle rather surreal and ethereal album, all wrapped up in warm idyllic soundscapes that evoke both beauty, and a kind off early 70’s Roxy music nostalgia.

Mood valiant. / Hiatus Kouyate
Mark: 3rd album from Australian ‘Future-soul’ Grammy-nominated alternative R&B band. Skittery beats that have a Dubstep/D&B feel, underpin neo-soul vocalising reminiscent of Eryakh Badu & Corinne Bailey Rae. The frenetic key & tempo changes, rapid fire vocals, and jittery rhythms occasionally give it too much of a ‘Music School graduates’ feel, but their third album sees them establishing a uniquely individual sound.
Neil: The Australian future soul super group’s latest release is another slick and ultra-smooth release, mixing in their own inimitable way cool jazz, neo soul and R&B. Hugely popular in hip and trendy bars and clubs globally, but perhaps just a little slightly too slick and controlled in all areas for my tastes.

Mother Nature. / Kidjo, Angélique
Mark: Beninese singer, songwriter, and activist Angélique Kidjo returns with her first album of original material since 2014’s Eve, collaborating with a younger generation of musicians like Burna Boy, and Sampa the Great, crossing continents & generations. She uses this fusion of percussive pan-African traditional styles with modern dance, Hip-Hop & trap grooves with her Fon, Yoruba, French, and English vocals, to comment on various current issues around political resistance & female empowerment. Strong messages surround by catchy funky danceable beats.
Neil:Kidjo, Angélique has been described by some reviewers as Africa’s premiere diva and now recognised across the World, thanks in part to singing at the recent Tokyo Olympics. This multi guest album expounds her vision of pan African unity. Infectious rhythms and her love of Zimbabwean township music all play a role in this potent mix. Her fabulous reimagining of the Talking Heads Remain In Light album is well worth checking out too!

Welcome 2 America. / Prince
Mark: Unreleased album from the Prince vaults recorded & mixed in 2010, but then set aside for unknown reasons. None of the songs were ever played live, so its existence & unearthing was big news for Prince fans this year. Prince created so much music in the later phase of his career, so how much you enjoy this will probably depend on how devoted you are to the independent phase of his career, with its shifting styles, and touches of genius buried within lots of filler. ‘Welcome 2 America’ has some great, catchy, tracks on social empowerment (that seem even more relevant today) and some soulful ballads, but also some of the jazz-funk filler that typified his albums from that era. Overall though it’s probably more consistently enjoyable than a lot of his albums from the 2010’s, so its good that it has finally seen the light of day at last.
Neil: Whilst there is no argument that Prince created some of the greatest albums of the 80’s it is also true that the release of material since his death has been patchy in quality. Sadly, this album of totally unreleased tracks falls into this category. It’s is a ‘state of the nation’ album originally scheduled for a 2010 release, intended as a kind of updated version of the brilliant Sign ‘O’ The Times, but it lacks that albums originality, bite and passion. Prince is always worth listening to and there are one or two good tracks on the album, but it is also clear from listening to the final overall work why he choose to leave it unrealised.

The blue elephant. / Berry, Matt
Mark: Actor-Musician Matt Berry (The Mighty Boosh, The IT Crowd) likes to deliver albums re-creating particular styles of music he is a fan of. Pastoral folk-rock for 2013’s ‘Kill the Wolf’, new age synthesizer music for 2014’s Music for Insomniacs, and country-rock (2020’s Phantom Birds). He is back with a new album square the the psychedelic realm with new album ‘The blue elephant’. All the faders are set to reverb, splashy snares hit every few seconds, chorale voices back meandering tunes as his actor-ish tones and song arrangements hit all the psych buttons you could push. One for fans of the genre. Anyone else might feel like they’ve dialled in a lost pirate radio station from the 60s…
Neil: You might be more familiar with Matt Berry’s as the award-winning actor, comedian in outings such as ‘The Mighty Boosh’ or the 2015 SpongeBob movie. However, he has always run his music career in parallel with his acting one. A prolific musician with nine studio albums to his name. In ‘The Blue Elephant’ he has made a work that is a huge homage to the music of the late 60’s. Let’s be clear this isn’t a comedy album in any sense of the word, instead it’s a serious recreation of the music of flower-power age. And if you enjoy music from this time, then I think you are onto a real winner.

Drama. / Amarante, Rodrigo
Mark: A Rio de Janeiro native who now calls Los Angeles home. Known for the rock quartet Los Hermanos (who were huge in Brazil) and his track Tuyo which is the theme song on the popular Netflix series Narcos. ‘Drama’ is his second solo outing, following 2014’s Cavalo. Lovely atmospheric laid back Brazilian samba/tango rhythms, with 4 tracks in English, shifting from the upbeat to the romantic. A perfectly relaxed, soothing album for the times we find ourselves in. Amarante apparently recorded most of the album himself, and plays no less than 10 of its instruments.
Neil: Born in Rio De Janeiro, Rodrigo Amarante uses his rich cultural heritage to fullest advantage, whilst bringing a large dollop of his own creativity to the party. It is a laid-back party, but no worse for that. It is the kind of music you can imagine taking it easy to on a long hot summer’s day. Another blissful, gentle album, this time Samba inspired with acoustic singer-songwriter elements woven in.

KG0516. / Karol G
Mark: Colombian pop singer who mixes reggaeton, hip-hop, & modern R&B. She spent a decade as a guest and backing vocalist before Ahora Me Llama with Bad Bunny in 2017 launched her solo career. KG0516 is her 3rd album and is a catchy mix of pop-reggaetón, urbano & Latin trap. The US is supposedly in the midst of a second wave of Latin crossover success after the 2000’s and this album, which has already made a Guardian list of the Best albums of 2021 so far, will no doubt place her as one of the key female artists currently in Latin music.
Neil: Colombian singer Karol G’s latest album takes its title from the format of a flight number representing her name. It’s a clever idea and well named, as each track in this album in the artists own words “is a connecting flight that takes you to a new place”. It’s Karol’s own version of a musical journey, the tango tinged modern urban sound and production overlays a versatile range of tracks, each with a slightly different emotional emphasis.

Reason to live. / Barlow, Lou
Mark: 6th solo album from this iconic indie music figure, who has been a member of Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, and the Folk Implosion. A homage to his early lo-fi aesthetic (but with better modern gear) he recorded this album at his home, and played everything himself except for drums on one track. Folky, introspective, searching songs that confront anxieties both personal and political. Mature and thoughtful, proof that domestic happiness hasn’t dulled his song-writing skills.
Neil: A million miles away from his Dinosaur Jnr output, Lou Barlow’s downbeat vocals and acoustic guitar driven lo fi production are in places reminiscent of Nick Drake. The lyrics mine a rich vein of heartbreak and critical self-introspection. That all said, there is undoubtedly a warmth and optimism woven through the tracks too. The result is delicate, beautiful, and slightly melancholic and well worth a listen.

After robots. / BLK JKS
Mark: We just purchased the new sophomore 2021 album ‘Abantu/Before Humans’ from BLK JKS, so we thought we would also track down their critically lauded debut from 2009. This will end up in the world section, but it is just as much an alternative rock album, as turning the tables, the South African musicians take on Western music traditions, instead of the other way round. A dense hybrid of 60’s hard rock, proggy rhythms, jazz, afrobeat, reggae and much more. Repeated listens are needed to make headway into this album, which still sounds ahead of its time 12 years on. Challenging but rewarding.
Neil: After Robots is a hugely ambitious project, with the band trying to fuse elements of prog rock, ska, jazz kwaito and reggae (and those were just the genres I spotted) into a cohesive whole. In places it is great, and their ambition pays off. In other places the weight of this ambition pulls it down, and the album loses focus and clarity, but the big sound they strive for is powerful throughout.

Get out of your own way. / Sands, Evie
Mark: Much like Jackie DeShannon, Evie Sands is a pioneering 1960’s singer, who had the bad luck of being the first artist to record a number of well know songs that went onto become big hits for others. She was the first singer to record “Angel of the Morning” for example, weeks before her label went bankrupt & the song became an massive hit for another singer. She spent most of the 70s focusing on songwriting, only releasing 2 albums before retiring completely. After a comeback album in 1999, ‘Get out of your own way’ is her first solo recording in 22 years, and it’s just great. A super catchy set of melodic country-tinged pop songs that sound timeless.
Neil: American singer songwriter Evie Sands began her career in the 60’s when she was just a teenager. Possessing a distinctive powerful and unique blue-eyed soul voice no less than Dusty Springfield described her as her favourite singer. She’s weathered the highs and lows of the music industry for the best part of 60 years. This new collection sounds like it could have been recorded at any point in career, from the mid seventies onwards. Accompanied by a strong band and her undiminished vocals, basically it is a collection of American classic pop-rock ballad songs that have soulful elements.

I know I’m funny haha. / Webster, Faye
Mark: The music photographer/indie-singer returns with a new album after the breakout success of 2019’s Atlanta Millionaires Club. She has a lovely voice, and the album is full of lovelorn ballads and sad moods, delivered in laid back washes of country-ish pedal steel and strings. Her tart lyrics often uncut the sweetness of her drowsy meditations on love & loneliness. Lead off song, the 2020 single ‘Better Distractions’ landed on Barack Obama’s annual year-end playlist. Really enjoyed this one.
Neil: The sad, plaintive and beautiful voice of Faye Webster is put to excellent use in ‘I know I’m funny ha-ha’. A lonesome, indie country, haunting, steel guitar heavy album of songs about the emotional emptiness of life’s sadder moments. It is a testament to the albums musical balance that it never sounds like a dirge, or lacking in emotional conviction.

Home video. / Dacus, Lucy
Mark: The solo artist (and member of ‘Boygenius’, a trio with fellow breakout 20-something singer/songwriters Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers) returns with her 3rd solo album, which looks back on coming of age in her hometown. Her warm emotive voice looks back on her childhood & adolescence with vignettes on relationships, the influence of the Church on young women, and sexuality. These poignant reflections would seem to lend themselves to a folky acoustic mileau, but Dacus rocks out with a power-pop feel to the most traks, leavened with some guitar & keys based ballads. The perspective of her 20s provides a more mature & defined worldview, that pierces the mists of nostalgic memories with sharply pointed observations. Really good.
Neil: As a young person Lucy Dacus was heavily immersed in American Christian youth culture, but as her sexuality emerged this started to raise problems in her life and faith. ‘Home Video’ is her autobiographical exploration of her younger self’s world and her subsequent growth. The songs are catchy, finely crafted and, in a deliberately post adolescent way, address young love, nostalgia, spirituality and emerging sexuality. The lyrics are direct and sharply focussed.

Blue weekend. / Wolf Alice
Mark: 3rd album from this North London band that merge vintage ’90s rock and 4AD styled dream-pop. Previous albums were all a commercially & critical success, garnering a Grammy nomination in 2015 and a Mercury prize for Visions Of a Life, and each release seems to get huger in sound & ambition, navigating multiple genres with ease. This album is even more ambitious, with the music polished to a sheen, and singer Ellie Rowsell’s voice in front, every track seems to be aiming for ‘Soaring anthem’. Already the 4th highest scored album of 2021 on Metacritic. It all sounds amazing, but I’m still not convinced they are anything more than the sum of their influences.
Neil: Back in the day some bands deliberately wrote albums designed to be played in big stadium tours or festivals. Wolf Alice’s latest outing sounds like that was their intention on ‘Blue Weekend’. This isn’t a criticism, as it’s a pristine, extravagant alt-rock/shoegaze work of big performances and sound. I think when they can get back on the road, the music encapsulated in this album will make for a showstopper stadium tour.

Tezeta /
Mark: This long-lost recording captures Ethiopian organist Hailu Mergia and the Walias Band at the Hilton Addis Ababa in 1975. The American owned Hilton was an upscale cosmopolitan refuge from the political turmoil of Ethiopia, following the mid-70s take over of the erg military regime. The Walias band held a residency at the Hilton for almost a decade and, as this rediscovered performance shows, merged traditional Ethiopian popular songs and standards with American funk, soul & Jazz grooves to great effect. Simple chord vamps form the backbone of these endlessly funky tunes that are perfect for background listening, but when you pay closer attention the complexities of his playing reveals itself.
Neil: Ethiopian keyboardist Hailu is best known for his work in the Walia’s Band that regularly played the Hilton hotel in Addis Ababa in the 1970’s, during what is often referred to as Ethiopia’s “Golden age of music”. These long-lost recordings are finally seeing the light of day. Imagine, if you can, Ethiopian cocktail lounge music that also encompasses traditional and modern aspects. Music that is simultaneously fabulous background music, and also innovative in its own way. It’s a really mesmerising mix.

Utopian ashes / Gillespie, Bobby
Mark: The Primal Scream frontman teams up with former Savages frontwoman Jehnny Beth for some duets in the vein of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. Apparently the album tells the tale of a doomed marriage. Grievances are aired and regret & blame intermingle, as the fictional couple sift through the ashes of their failed relationship. These narratives are set to a moody, lush stringed, country-southern soul sound, and they give the indie-rocker & the post punk icon a chance to showcase a hither-to unknown vulnerability within their respective musical personas. An unlikely pairing that results in a surprisingly effective album.
Neil: Primal Scream and Jesus and the Mary Chain legend Bobby Gillespie teams up with Jehnny Beth, and they go all dark country on us. On paper it sounds like a startling change of direction for both artists, and in less experienced & talented hands it could have gone badly astray. However, both Bobby’s and Jehnny’s instantly recognisable and distinctive voices anchor the piece, and the album does contain some low-key stylistic elements of their previous work. Dramatic and understated, in places tragedy and pain, melodrama and dark tales, are all imbedded in these songs. A highly successful collaboration & an unexpected change for all parties concerned that really delivers the goods.

Box Set Reissue Picks:
The Reprise albums (1968-1971). / Mitchell, Joni
Neil: A collection of Joni’s reprise albums. The pinnacle of her career, flawless, creatively unbounded by convention or commercial considerations, unmatched in their brilliance. The finest songwriter of our time on creative fire.

Everybody still digs Bill Evans. / Evans, Bill
Mark: Lavish & stylish box set from Concord Records speciality Craft imprint. The first detailed career retrospective from 1956—1980, through multiple labels, for the iconic Jazz pianist divides its 5 discs into themes that follow his career: 2 disc of Piano Trio performances, one of Solo performances, another of co-headlining and side-person work, and for the final disc a previously unreleased, live recording form the mid 70’s. Encased in a lovely hardbound book, with photos and a lengthy essay & session notes, the tracks have all been newly remastered. A fitting tribute to perhaps one of the most influential & pivotal figures of modern Jazz.