ALBUM REVIEW: Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now

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Hot on the heels of her collaborative album with Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam, Jesca Hoop backs it up with a new solo album that dives deeper into her experimental songwriting, drawing on folk, indie and art pop.

The songs here are minimal, skeletal even. Simple percussive elements, at one point just the keys of a typewriter, form the basis for hypnotic melodies and lyrical concerns that often draw on themes of empowerment, seizing one’s destiny and the moment.

It’s Hoop’s sense of musical adventure and experimental lean, yet not at the expense of a strong song, that lends comparison to St Vincent and a more organic Bjork. Endlessly catchy and boldly creative, Memories Are Now is a thrilling escape from the doldrums.

Chris Familton

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LIVE REVIEW: Margaret Glaspy

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Margaret Glaspy + Slow Dancer @ Newtown Social Club, 6th March 2017

Slow Dancer had the task of warming the crowd and for the most part the Oh Mercy guitarist (Simon Okely) caught and maintained their attention with his brand of solo, soulful indie music. He has a fine line in emotive chords and a guitar sound like garage rock filtered through a slowed, stoned and hazy late-night filter. Lyrically his songs fell short though, resorting for the most part to tortured-love subject matter, and with one of those faux-soul voices (should we blame Bon Iver?) it all blended into a warm and sugary bowl of overdone, saved intermittently by his guitar playing.

Margaret Glaspy’s debut album is called Emotions and Math and that title works equally well as description of her live show. From the outset she sat the audience back on their heels with a band that sit right in the pocket – clever, subtle and intricate but never showy. The full impact from the opening notes of Love Like This came from her percussive, rhythmic guitar playing that swung from sweet, lowdown riffs to slashing, tension-laden and clanging chords. And then there’s that voice. It’s familiar in the vein of Liz Phair, Feist, Bjork, Joan Wasser and even the ancient-sounding folk of Karen Dalton, yet it is laced with contemporary influences like R&B. She has a raw, growling inflection that provides the emotion to the structured and faultlessly played math of her songs. Combine that with hushed sensual tones and some diva-worthy note runs and Glaspy was an endlessly fascinating singer, complementing her set with a brace of stunning covers of songs by Neil Young, Lauren Hill, Bjork and Lucinda Williams.

Watching and listening to Glaspy reminded me of those early days when Jeff Buckley began to make waves on the back of his undeniable natural talent as a singer, guitarist and songwriter. You could hear the craft but the raw emotion and barely-contained creativity was just as crucial. From the same streets of New York, Glaspy is surely about to make a similar artistic statement based on this performance.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Bic Runga – Close Your Eyes

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This is Bic Runga’s fifth album in two decades and comes as she is inducted into the NZ Music Hall of Fame. A collection of covers and two originals, it finds her tipping her hat to some of her influences, from the obvious to the obscure. Both originals (the title track and Dream A Dream) are lush rhythmic pop songs with tropical noir textures while elsewhere she tackles Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Love’s Andmoreagain, Nick Drake, Kanye West and the Roberta Flack classic The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face. Many fans would prefer an album of originals but as a stop-gap this is a wonderful and worthy insight into Runga’s musical world.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Xylouris White – Black Peak

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Many may have expected the collaboration between Jim White (Dirty Three) and Cretan lute player George Xylouris to be a one-off collaboration but now they’re onto album number two which features Xylouris singing on more tracks and the pair digging deeper into their primitive jazz and post-rock sense of musical adventure.

The mood of the album varies from languid to visceral. ’Forging’ is a galloping piece of pagan acoustic metal that thrills with its speed and momentum while other tracks explore minimal mood, drones and percussive dissonance with similar verve and free-spiritedness.

Black Peak feels instinctive and symbiotic, a masterclass from two musicians taking their traditional instruments right out to the edge of avant-garde darkness.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: King Creosote – Astronaut Meets Appleman

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Rating7Scotsman Kenny Anderson has long dwelled on the fringes of indie and experimental pop music, releasing over forty albums that traverse a large expanse of creative terrain. His latest finds him exploring graceful and emotive music, drawing on electronic and organic instrumentation and positioned between the terrestrial and ethereal. The results are often moving and transportive, the unifying element being Anderson’s rich Scottish burr of a voice. This is an album that necessitates repeat listens with a myriad of details and nuances –lyrically and musically – revealing themselves each time. Astronaut Meets Appleman is sophisticated and literate music, devoid of pretension.

Chris Familton