Sunday Morning Listen #2

We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

Stanza VIII, Sunday Morning – a poem by Wallace Stevens

Sunday Morning is considered the breakthrough poem of this great American Modernist poet. It’s not an easy poem and any obvious answers to its themes are well beyond our reach – what happens when we die (!) – but it’s the bittersweet impact of the individual words I’m drawn to. In this stanza we’re all over the place, flying one second and plummeting the next. It’s a bit like Sunday too – a blissful day off until the thought of ironing shirts for the working week and doing the bloody supermarket shop clouds any hope of relaxation. I wonder if Wallace Stevens ever felt the Sunday blues. By day he was a besuited middle-aged insurance executive with a Churchill physique, by night (or perhaps only on Sundays) a poet of majestic significance. He must have had immense control – to spend the greater part of a life behind a desk while allowing his imagination to run wild only outside working hours. Until he let seriously loose and broke his hand on Hemingway’s jaw that is. In his three-piece suit of course.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/02/the-thrilling-mind-of-wallace-stevens

So don’t think about the school lunches and piles of laundry and unruly lawns. Instead stretch out your Sunday – stick this playlist of new music on, grab your book and curl up in a favourite corner.

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.’

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.

Best Albums 2016

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.

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’

 

 

A Gentle Playlist for Mornings

Morning bird

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.

Best 20 Albums of 2015

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:



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The Year of the Chimera – 2014’s Best Albums

2014 was an interesting year for music. Established names pulled out career defining albums, while new artists stomped over the rickety remnants of genre boundaries to produce brilliant debut hybrids. There was more than something for every type of listener. For me, ‘Lost in the Dream’ by The War on Drugs stood above the others. Every time I listen to it I think of The Boss’ third album ‘Born to Run,’ albeit with an aesthetic of smoke and mirrors and hazy psychedelica. ‘Lost in the Dream’ was also Adam Granduciel’s third album, a labour of love in which he worked through panic attacks and anxiety to produce what I reckon is an enduring masterpiece.

I haven’t ordered these albums in any meaningful way except alphabetically and, at the bottom of the page, you’ll find a spotify playlist with  a couple of songs from each one. Continue reading

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:

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Bat those lashes, Natasha

Cover of
Cover of Two Suns

Compelling  and unconventional with a memorable voice, 33 year old Natasha Khan has been likened to Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, Tori Amos and Bjork. However Khan, more commonly known as Bat For Lashes, is carving her own track with her emotive, and sometimes theatrical but never ordinary,  indie-pop/dream-pop songs.

Khan had produced three albums since 2006: ‘Fur and Gold‘; ‘Two Suns‘; and last year’s ‘The Haunted Man‘. What I love about her music is that it’s unpredictable and catchy all at the same time. There is a jubilance, an exhilarating freedom, in many of the choruses to her songs that grabs you unexpectantly (especially given the raw subject-matter). Khan’s voice is the centrepiece of everything and its authentic quality holds us steady amongst the noise –  the stirring orchestral strings, the all-male backing choirs, the emergence of unusual instrumental sounds that are purely electronic in origin. And, somehow, it all seems to work.

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