Leave Work Press Play

I work in a very quiet law office, known at The Library (which would be perfect if it actually was). We have the tummy-rumblers, the furious chewers, the involuntary sighers and the out-loud-thinkers. I probably fall into three of those camps. In some ways it’s a respite from the noisy world but I miss listening to music, and always look forward to shoving my headphones into my ears on the walk home. I’ve put together a playlist of songs I’m listening to at this very moment. See the link below. And the very cool thing is there’s a song on the list by my work colleague’s band, Mecuzine. I like to think that while he’s tapping away on the keyboard he imagines it’s not a computer but his piano and he’s hearing the song in his head. Mecuzine’s members have serious NZ rock cred. Album due out 13 July.

As soon as I heard Death Cab for Cutie had a new song, I had to immediately go and listen to it (in the bathroom at work). Although the band (and we) miss the brilliance of guitarist Chris Walla, Gold Rush still brings the clever lyrics DCFC are known for, even with the hackneyed distortion of Ben Gibbard’s voice. And the hook at the start is from Yoko Ono…

One of my picks for album of the year, Microshift by Leeds-based band Hookworms, is well worth listening to. It’s the band’s third and most accessible record – less abrasion, less drone and less overall noise and fuzz. It jumps across genres – post-punk, indie rock, electronica while maintaining an overall euphoria and jubilance. If you like Arcade Fire or LCD Soundsystem this is the album for you.

If you’re in the mood for genuinely happy pop (and who isn’t), listen to four-piece, The Beths. And these just aren’t any old Beths. They are our very own Beths hailing from Auckland. Press play for Dopamine.

The List:

The gift of the written gab….

A well written music review is a thing of beauty. A reviewer is a rare bird-dog, half writer and half music boffin, and a good review captures the best parts of both. Reviews are usually bite-sized and easily enjoyed over small moments. In the morning I always turn first (yes, old school newsprint) to the reviews in the newspaper. It’s especially delicious if I’ve been to the gig or listened to the album.  Reviews serve a useful purpose too, guiding us deftly through the assault course of instantly-accessible music. In this way, I think they have assumed a greater influence than previously, providing a welcome steer to people flummoxed by the over-abundance of choice.

I really like this review of S.Carey’s album Hundred Acres (as well as really liking Hundred Acres). Although I don’t agree with the score, the writing (and the album) has some beautiful moments: Where Vernon relishes poetic extravagance, layering his band’s music with numerology and a pine-scented sense of lore, Carey’s appeals to the heart are far less adorned. I don’t think I’ve read a more apt description of Vernon’s music (otherwise known as Bon Iver) as a pine-scented sense of lore. Although Pitchfork is most definitely up its own ass, the contributing writers are brilliant.

https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/s-carey-hundred-acres/

And then there is Alexis Petridis, the Guardian’s rock and pop critic. I often concur with Petridis’ reviews, so he’s a pretty safe bet when I want to hear something new. Have a read of his review of Young Fathers’ album Cocoa Sugar. I first listened to Cocoa Sugar on  a Monday night after a Hell Day at work. I was knackered. No energy reserves whatsoever. But after a few minutes of listening to this album I was successfully mortifying the kids with my ridiculous dance moves. So good. Cocoa Sugar isn’t a particularly easy listen (we’ve got Carey’s Hundred Acres for that) but it’s a furious, energetic take on the modern world. It feels like today.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/mar/08/young-fathers-cocoa-sugar-review-twisted-sounds-for-a-twisted-world

If you read the review to the end you’ll see a mention of Ali Farka Toure.  Listen to his work. Incredible.

And just because they are so outstanding and I’m drawn to them like the Pied Piper’s children, here’s a review of The National’s Sleep Well Beast.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/sep/07/the-national-sleep-well-beast-review

There’s something about Walk It Back that gets under my skin. I think it’s the cheesy melody at 1.16. Perhaps it’s tapping into an old memory in my head – some 80’s TV theme maybe – it’s so familiar. Can anyone help?

Will leave you with this perfectly-formed little gem from Anderson .Paak

Sunday Morning Listen #1

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.’

I’m a Little Bit Country….

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!

http://www.rollingstone.com/country/lists/10-new-country-artists-you-need-to-know-march-2017-w470963

Woman is an ever fickle and changeable thing…

….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.

Dreamy new song from alt-j

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.

Three terrific new albums….

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

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.’

 

Roosevelt, Roosevelt.

Roosevelt

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’

 

 

James Blake. Genius.

James-Blake-2014-770x510

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.’

 

Simon and Garfunkel for 2016

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…

Simon and Garfunkel

..out of my head when I listen to this track:

Three of their four albums are on Spotify. You can check them out here:

New music: Father John Misty, Sampha and Aldous Harding

Dad and I have just returned from the UK, a two week holiday to mark his 90th birthday. One night, over a bottle of sauvignon blanc, I asked him if he wanted to be young again. ‘Of course,’ he said without hesitation, ‘I wish I could go back to being 48.’ I was surprised, being only a couple of years north of that myself and already feeling somewhat ancient. He saw my reaction and smiled. ’48 is the age when the last of you was born’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t want to be alive if you weren’t.’

Early the next morning, as I was rambling around the country lanes in Rye while Dad slept, a song by Father John Misty came on my playlist. This one:

It’s from Misty’s album Pure Comedy which was released in April. I had listened to the album a couple of times but, missing the rich vaudeville feel of his previous albums, I’d left it at that. But this time was different. Whether it was seeing the world through a 90 year old’s failing eyesight or not, the song got to me. And that’s all you need with music isn’t it – to affect you in some way – to make you move or sing along or have a bloody good long sob (the latter in my case as I understood there can never be a magic mountain). The rest of the album followed easily.

Father John Misty, a self-described ‘sarcastic Michael Buble’, is an outlier in the indie music world as he is possibly more fascinating than his music. He was once the drummer for the sleepy Fleet Foxes before he busted out with a rakish performance on Letterman’s Late Show singing ‘Bored in the USA’.

On Pure Comedy he espouses 70 minutes of home truths which could be sanctimonious if the songwriting wasn’t so damn brilliant. He delivers biting, cutting lyrics in a voice so smooth it’s easy to forget he’s ranting about climate change, social media, religion and politics. I had a nagging sense of deja vu all the way until I realised what I was really listening to was a millennial Elton John in the midst of a depressive episode. It’s on stalks in this track:

If Pure Comedy gets under your skin, have a listen to Misty’s previous albums: Fear Fun and I Love You, Honeybear. He has also released a number of songs under his real name, Josh Tillman. They’re exceptionally maudlin. I love them but many don’t.

Another beautiful and thought-provoking album is Sampha’s Process. It’s honest, intensely melodic and moving. You may have already heard Sampha’s husky soulful voice on albums by Solange, Kanye West, Drake, FKA Twigs and Frank Ocean. Now, with his debut album, he has come into his own.

One of many highlights is ‘(No one knows me) like the piano’, a gorgeous ode to his mother who passed away during the recording of the album:

Rounding out this clever trio is Aldous Harding with her second album Party. I can’t stop listening to it and I’m wickedly envious of anyone lucky enough to get tickets to see her this June (http://www.undertheradar.co.nz/news/12568/Aldous-Harding-Announces-Two-Intimate-Shows-At-Aucklands-Historic-Pah-Homestead.utr).

Harding has two voices – one reminiscent of Kate bush or Joanna Newsome, the other PJ Harvey – and each as captivating as the other. What astounds me about this album is both its quiet power and Harding’s deft control as she unfolds her thoughtful lyrics. Party is not something you’ll want to dance to, but it is a mesmerising and addictive listen.

In Each Other’s Pockets

I admire those couples who can both live and work together harmoniously. Given there are a swag who can barely coexist, these star twosomes deserve a happy stamp on each hand. It’s even better when the fruit falling from such compatible pairing is in the form of one magical album after another. So who are these rare and envied beings? And do they write songs about who forgot to put the rubbish out? Continue reading

Through Adversity comes Strength…or a really great album….

Breakup albums. I’ve got a fair few on my ‘Albums I Listen to Incessantly and Never Tire of’  list: Ryan Adams’ ‘Heartbreaker’ is one, http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/36-heartbreaker/, and Beck’s ‘Sea Change’ another, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-best-albums-of-the-2000s-20110718/beck-sea-change-20110707 . I like these particular albums, not because I have schadenfreude tendencies, but because unexpectedly raw beauty has been created by two artists, neither of whom were previously known for their overly-sensitive sides. Beck sat on his twelve songs for two years not wanting to ‘strew his baggage across the public lobby.’ I suppose with track names like ‘Guess I’m Doing Fine,’ ‘Lonesome Tears’ and ‘Already Dead’ there could have been accusations of wallowing self-indulgence. Although the album is awash with lush string arrangements, the lyrics are so honest, so stricken yet delivered in a deadpan detached tone, that any hint of sentimentality doesn’t get a look in. Continue reading

A Bright Boy

The Decemberists "The Crane Wife" al...
The Decemberists “The Crane Wife” album cover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Recently I attended a reader’s and writer’s session given by Patrick Ness, author of the fantastic young-adult ‘Chaos Walking‘ trilogy, six novels and a collection of short stories. His most recent novel, ‘The Crane Wife‘ is a damn good read. When I first saw ‘The Crane Wife’  in my local bookshop, I didn’t immediately think of the Japanese fable but rather of the album of the same name by indie folk rock band, The Decemberists. I picked up the book and, on the first page, these lyrics:

‘And all the stars were crashing round

As I laid eyes on what I’d found.

The Decemberists.’

In the R & W session Patrick talked about his love of music and how he endeavoured to create stories that have the same feel and mood as the songs he loves. Each one of his books is crafted with a particular song in mind and, in the case of ‘The Crane Wife’, it is The Decemberists’  The Crane Wife Part 1 & 2.  Here it is here – hang in until the 5.35 minute mark when the languorous and melodic second part starts:

Continue reading