I’ve been transfixed lately by a beautiful new album by Virginian couple Lauren and Daniel Goans, otherwise known as Lowland Hum. If you’re in the mood for some Van Morrison or Cat Stevens, play this instead. The music is simple and unadorned with lyrics focussed firmly on the outdoors. As they aptly note in third track In Flight, ‘sometimes a walk is all you need.’
Every month Rolling Stone magazine recommends ten new country/Americana artists to hear. It’s a good read and covers the whole spectrum of the massive country genre – from the traditional sounds of Hank Williams/Loretta Lynn to honky-tonk that is pushing right up against other genres, such as funk and soul. The writing has some refreshingly gentle humour in it too: Newcomer Devin Dawson is described as sounding like ‘John Mayer, if he’d grown up listening to Garth Brooks and worried more about other people’s feelings’; and Lucas Hoge as ‘easygoing, optimistic pop-country that won’t upset any delicate constitutions.’ The link is at the bottom of this post.
We’ve got some very talented alt-country/alt-folk artists in the Southern hemisphere too – here are a few I’ve been listening to lately:
Julia Jacklin, from the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, is a classically trained singer who produced a debut album last year full of confessional, bittersweet alt-country gems. It doesn’t surprise me that she loves Fiona Apple. She’s in concert in Auckland on May 27th at the Tuning Fork – go see her if you can.
Aldous Harding and Marlon Williams – both Kiwis, both immensely talented singer-songwriters. This creative couple live in the artsy hub of Lyttleton. Williams blew everyone away with his debut album Marlon Williams. He’s got huge stage charisma and a resonant arresting voice. Harding is equally mesmerising. She is incredible in concert, as if her life depends on the delivery of each song.
Another Kiwi to watch is Nadia Reid. Music critics all over the globe are smitten with her music, largely due to her warm, intimate voice. Her latest album ‘Preservation’ is a spare listen, just her voice and an acoustic guitar, but it’s full of interesting utterances that can catch a listener by surprise. Nadia is touring NZ end of March, early April and tickets will be selling fast. Click on this for info http://nadiareid.com. Sing on NZ!
….warned Virgil in his poem The Aeneid. Laura Marling, a talented British singer-songwriter with both wisdom and a voice far beyond her 27 years, found the quote hilarious and had part of it tattooed on her thigh: ‘Semper Femina’ in Latin. Over the years the phrase grew into a nine track album. On it Marling sings
‘Oh Nouel, you sit so well
A thousand artists’ muse
But you’ll be anything you choose
Fickle and changeable are you
And long may that continue.’
Semper Femina is Marling’s sixth album and one of her best. The spotlight is on female friendships – relationships that have saved her, others more fractured and complex, all meaningful in some way. You can hear Marling’s influences at play: Joni Mitchell in ‘Nouel’; Nick Drake in ‘The Valley’; Neil Young in ‘Nothing Not Nearly’. But it is the close of the album that has stayed with me – the sound of determined footsteps, a slammed door. These mirror the sounds in the closing act of Henrik Ibsen’s play A Dolls House, as Nora Helmer leaves her husband and children in order to find herself. The year was 1879.
Although Semper Femina doesn’t hurl its message full throttle at the listener, there is certainly a clear statement running through it – that woman can be as fickle and changeable as she wants, as she is free to be.
The British 3-piece are back with the first single from their forthcoming album – and it’s very lovely – a full minute of woozy instrumentation before we hear the almost Gregorian voices of Gus Unger-Hamilton and Joe Newman. I love the classic soft rock in the chorus at around the 2:38 mark (think REO Speedwagon), and of course Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowtree making a cameo appearance in the last minute of the song. Bliss.
rather a playlist of gorgeous songs especially for you. Happy Valentine’s Day music-lovers X
I saw a brilliant documentary last night. It was equal parts warmth and tragedy, and as funny as hell. The two subjects were eccentric, co-dependent and loved each other to bits. As I watched, the enormity of their deaths within a day of each other hit me. How could these vital, talented people be gone? But, two days after Christmas last year, 60-year old Carrie Fisher went into cardiac arrest on a flight from London to LA. She died four days later followed swiftly by her mother, Debbie Reynolds. After seeing ‘Bright Lights’ I now understand what dying from a broken heart really means. I’d felt the same poignancy listening to Leonard Cohen’s ‘You want it Darker’ and Bowie’s triumphant ‘Black Star.’ What courage – to square off against one’s own mortality. 2016 was a brutal year for many reasons that we’re all acutely aware of. A tweet I saw summed it up perfectly: Is Quentin Tarantino directing 2016? Luckily, out of the shambles, some excellent new music surfaced. And isn’t that one of the important things? The stuff that is created? The stuff that lasts? I think back to being curled in the corner of my bedroom transfixed by ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’; and drunkenly singing ‘Take it easy’ by Glen Frey outside the Duke of Marlborough Hotel; and belting out ‘1999’ with beloved friends at Lake Taupo on the eve of Y2K. And, of course, I’ll never ever forget Princess Leia.
Here are 25 wonderful albums from last year (in no particular order):
Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool. This is why Radiohead is one of the best bands in the world. Sublime, but don’t rush it – it gets better with every listen. Highlights: Daydreaming; Burn the Witch; True Love Waits.
James Blake The Colour in Anything. Choir boy whose heart overflows with Soul. Highlights: Meet You in the Maze; Put That Away and Talk to Me; Radio Silence.
Frank Ocean Blonde/Blond. More a work of art than an easy listen. But THAT VOICE! Highlights: Pink and White; Ivy; Nikes.
Chance the Rapper Colouring Book. Joyous and spiritual, uplifting hip-hop with a raft of cameos. Highlights: No Problem; All We Got; Blessings.
Solange A Seat at the Table. Intensely beautiful RnB delivering a raw and powerful message. Highlights: Cranes in the Sky; Scales; Don’t You Wait.
Whitney Light Upon the Lake. Indie Rock. Perfect summertime roadie music. Highlights: No Woman; Polly; Follow; No Matter Where We Go.
Lambchop Flotus. Truly millenial, melodic and modern. Highlights: NIV; Flotus; Old Masters.
Ray LaMontagne Ouroboros. Gorgeous gentle pastorally-centred songs. Highlights: All of Part Two.
Yumi Zouma Yoncalla. Breezy electronic pop from this talented 4-member Kiwi band. Highlights: Text from Sweden; Barricade (Matter of Fact); Remember You at All.
Leonard Cohen You Want it Darker. A swansong masterpiece that personifies the master. Highlights: You Want it Darker; Leaving the Table; Steer Your Way.
David Bowie Black Star. A difficult first few listens give way to wonder. Jazz-oriented, experimental and unnerving. Highlights: Lazarus; Blackstar; I Can’t Give Everything Away.
The 1975 I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it. The sound of a boy-band coming into its own. Highlights: Somebody Else; A Change of Heart; The Sound.
Anderson .Paak Malibu. Paak sounds like Stevie Wonder, James Brown, D’Angelo and Kanye West all at once. Highlights: Am I Wrong; Put me thru; Come Down.
Neko Case, k.d. Lang, Laura Veirs case/lang/veirs. Triple-whammy legends in a class of their own. Highlights: Atomic Number; Best Kept Secret; Song for Judee.
Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial. Energetic and clever guitar-driven rock. You’ll be richly rewarded by Will Toledo’s self-deprecating lyrics. Highlights: Destroyed by Hippie Powers; The Ballad of the Costa Concordia; Vincent; Fill in the Blank; Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.
Roosevelt Roosevelt. For lovers of everything 80’s. You’d have to be made of stone not to dance to this. Highlights: Night Moves; Moving On; Hold On.
Flume Skin. Hypnotic electronica from skilled Australian DJ Harley Streten. Highlights: Say It; Wall Fuck; Smoke and Retribution.
Angel Olsen My Woman. Olsen’s strong, unwavering voice is central here. Be patient – the album’s charms aren’t immediately obvious. Highlights: Sister; Shut Up and Kiss Me; Those Were the Days.
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam I Had a Dream That You Were Mine. A near-perfect pairing of two celebrated musicians (The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend). Highlights: 1000 Times; Peaceful Morning; The Morning Stars.
Pinegrove Cardinal. Moving, nostalgic balladry. Wonderful story-telling in each song – the delight is in the small details. Highlights: Old Friends; Cadmium; Waveform.
Hiss Golden Messenger Heart Like a Levee. The sound of worn leather boots on a gravel road. Highlights: Happy Day (Sister my Sister); Tell Her I’m Just Dancing; Biloxi.
Bon Iver 22, A Million. Justin Vernon’s vulnerability is all over this record. There is no more lumberjack Vernon here. Beautiful but oh so strange with the most interesting track names I’ve seen in a while. Highlights: 33 “God”; 22 (OVER S–N); ooooo Million.
Drive-By Truckers American Band. This great American band has had enough.Highlights: What It Means; Ever South; Surrender Under Protest.
Michael Kiwanuka Love and Hate. This album aches. Melancholic and gorgeous. Highlights: Black Man in a White World; Cold Little Heart; Falling.
School of Seven Bells SVIIB. Written against the devastating backdrop of the death of one of the band’s members, SVIIB burns brightly with hope. Highlights: Ablaze; Signals; On My Heart.
Give this a whirl at the next party you go to – preferably a 50th :). I put it together for a friend who was having a milestone birthday and made a promise that she would know every song. Although it doesn’t quite fit the ethos of this blog (About me) I had a lot of fun down memory lane. Happy Friday!
Blond, Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean has been MIA since 2012’s excellent channel Orange. Well, this is what he’s been up to in the interim. Blond is an exceptional album, managing even to rise above the public pressure preceding it. Listening to Blond you can hear a myriad of influences but it all ends up sounding fresh and original. Ocean is indefinable as an artist, unlike many of his contemporaries, although don’t expect the songs on Blond to end up on a top 40 chart anytime soon. There are no anthemic hits or big bangers but the feel of the entire album is wondrously moody. There are also some hilarious cameos: his mum; a friend burnt by Facebook; his 11 year old brother. Brilliant.
Highlights: Nu-RnB ‘Pink + White’ with backing by Beyonce, the Beatle-esque ‘White Ferrari’, gorgeous ‘Godspeed’ featuring gospel legend Kim Burrell.
Blond is not on Spotify. You gotta buy!
Love and Hate, Michael Kiwanuka
Michael Kiwanuka’s album Love and Hate is a glorious, sprawling sophomore release from the talented North-Londoner. It’s a big departure from his ‘safe’ debut album Home Again that, although it showcased his warm soulful voice and superb guitar skill, kept within the traditional boundaries of RnB and soul. This album is another thing altogether.
Highlights: Epic opener ‘Cold Little Heart’, Gospel-infused ‘Black Man in a white World.’
I have to admit I’ve been solo day-dancing to this. It’s an ode to all of you who were teenagers in the real 80’s. So is Roosevelt authentic? I couldn’t say it better than excruciatingly-hip Pitchfork magazine: Roosevelt is ‘a cocktail of disco, French touch, Ibiza house, yacht rock, and electropop that evokes some crowded Tiki-torch dancefloor lost on the Mediterranean coast. Even the artwork plays the part: Roosevelt (aka Cologne-based producer/DJ Marius Lauben) stands awash in purple light, his name displayed in a sharp, 1980s cursive. It looks like something you’d find on a poolside coffee table of a Malibu mansion after a massive rager, slightly stained with suntan lotion and margarita mix.’
‘Yacht pop’ – wow, there is such a thing!
Highlights: You’ll find your own depending on your stamina but mine – ‘Fever’, ‘Wait Up’, ‘Night Moves’
I’m most definitely not a morning person, being instead a perfectly content habitual owl. However, as any owl knows, the period pre-lunch can be a challenge and needs to be handled with the least amount of stricture. For me, this means shuffling aimlessly around the house in my ancient dressing gown (which will never be replaced, think Linus van Pelt), carrying a bottomless cup of restorative sweet tea. Anything I listen to also has to be similarly restorative.
This playlist is a tender, yet sunny, collection that will gently accompany any fellow morning-phobes as you ease yourselves into the bright light. I’ve book-ended it with two instrumental pieces: the first, ‘Phase’ by Beck from his bliss-filled album ‘Morning phase’ and, the last ‘Avril 14th’ a rarely accessible ambient track from electronic artist Aphex Twin. In between is a whole mash of tunes – lots of acoustic guitar, soft piano and a handful of interesting covers of some old favourites.
And Larks, it can be played in the evenings too…
If you know like-minded people who love music as much as you do please share this post with them by clicking on the links below.
The cover art of James Blake’s wonderful new album ‘The Colour in Anything’ is a visual representation of the musician. It was painted by the other Blake, 83 year old Sir Quentin, and shows Blake donned in an overcoat in a wintry English park, the sparse trees inhabited by menacing black crows.
The artwork reflects the musical world in which James exists – a moody, colourless, smudged sonic palette. This is not to say that his music is dreary. Rather, he has humanised electronic dance music, by adding in elements of R&B, soul and folk. And then there is his warm choir boy voice which he uses as another instrument by cutting it to pieces and layering it so we often hear a multitude of Blake’s on one song. The last track on the album, the reflective ‘Meet You in the Maze’ showcases this.
I’ve loved Blake’s voice ever since I first heard him on his self-titled debut album in 2011. He followed this with ‘Overgrown’ in 2013 for which he won the Mercury Prize. Never a truer line was sung than ‘suddenly I’m hip’ on the atmospheric ‘Retrograde.’
Just as Blake lent his voice to Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’, so have Bon Iver and Frank Ocean collaborated with Blake on ‘The Colour of Anything.’ You’ll hear Bon Iver’s unmistakeable voice on ‘I Need a Forest Fire.’ Try to ignore the whoop at the start of the song – it’s really got under my skin!
Album highlights: All of it but if I had to pick – ‘Radio Silence’, ‘Put That Away and Talk To Me’, ‘Modern Soul’, ‘Meet You in the Maze.’
The Milk Carton Kids are a folk-duo from California whose music has been likened to Simon and Garfunkel, The Everly Brothers, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. They are known for their gorgeous harmonies, clever guitar work and near-perfect song craft. To date the Milk Carton Kids have released four albums, all to critical acclaim, and bagged a grammy nomination and an Americana Music Award for their efforts.
Can’t get these guys…
..out of my head when I listen to this track:
Three of their four albums are on Spotify. You can check them out here:
Here’s an eclectic playlist for you, songs that have caught my attention this year, songs I’ve meandered back to again and again. If I was to name a favourite I think it would have to be ‘Atomic Number’ by legends k.d. lang, Neko Case (aka ‘Lungs’) and Laura Viers, otherwise known as case/lang/viers, because it’s just so darn cool that these three have teamed up for our listening joy. Awaiting, with bated breath, their forthcoming album in mid-June.
Notoriously private singer-songwriter Ray laMontagne has released his 6th studio album, the gorgeous ‘Ouroboros’. It is recorded in two parts and deserves to be listened to in its entirety. Continue reading
2015 was an extraordinary year for music. Candid memoir-albums were everywhere, keeping pace with their literary cousins; 90’s alt-rock burst forth from those conceived in that decade; and preternaturally gorgeous songs emerged from a gamut of broken hearts.
Here’s the complete playlist, with the exception of Joanna Newsom who is not on Spotify:
It’s somewhat presumptuous to be naming this year’s best album in April but, let’s be realistic, Sufjan’s ‘Carrie and Lowell’ could only be toppled by something earth-shatteringly magnificent.