The Chills, Silver Bullets
Artist: The Chills
Album: Silver Bullets
Label: Fire Records
Verdict: A triumphant return from the Dunedin rock veteran
There's been a bit of gap between Chills albums. Not counting compilations and a mini-album, the last one came out in 1996. Yes nearly 20 years ago. It was called Sunburnt and billed to Martin Phillipps and the Chills which was basically the Dunedin frontman and some UK session musicians. The result was a lifeless album that suggested Phillipps' pop had finally run out of that combo of dreaminess and baroque musical ambition which had set him apart since first emerging back in the early 80s.
Phillipps' band had had a good run with albums Brave Words, Submarine Bells and Soft Bomb which helped make them international indie contenders.
Afterwards, though, Phillipps returned to Dunedin, battled with depression, drugs and the occasional false dawn of a return to the studio or stage. But it has long seemed the Chills were consigned to history despite Phillipps recruiting yet another line-up of relative youngsters to help play his songs, his way. A mini-album Stand By released in 2004 didn't convince otherwise.
But here, finally, is the fifth Chills full-length album recorded by the band's 33rd line-up and the first the now 52-year-old Phillips has recorded in Dunedin.
Given all of the above, that there is a new Chills album at all is a minor miracle. That it holds its own alongside the best of its ancient predecessors is a major one.
Silver Bullets comes with the thrill of an out-of-the-blue comeback and the realisation that whatever it was that made Phillipps and co sound like nothing much else back then, or now, still holds up.
Some of this echoes the bedroom psychedelic wonderland of 1985's The Lost EP and the underwater pop odyssey of Submarine Bells. Anybody enchanted by the Chills' previous kaleidoscope worlds will find plenty to be charmed by, especially on centrepiece Pyramid/When the Poor Can Reach the Moon as it swirls from a Doledrums-like mope into the sunniest of extended choruses.
The state of the world is on Phillipps' mind, especially on the sprightly spiky title track and the similarly paced America Says Hello. Underwater Wasteland weaves in a spot of marine ecology while on Aurona Corona Phillipps entreats Gaia - yep Mother Earth herself - to "show mercy".
Somehow, this staves off hippy-dippiness, mostly care of the elegant, energetic, majestic music behind it all, though Tomboy, about a bullied girl, overstays its welcome with its deathless playground chant and kids on backing vocals.
But that's a rare blank among Silver Bullets' 11 tracks. It's one of the best-realised Chills albums in the band's long lumpy history - and the local rock comeback of many a year too.
- Russell Baillie
Mercury Rev, The Light in You
Artist: Mercury Rev
Album: The Light in You
Label: Bella Union
Verdict: Turn off your mind and enjoy
With their breakout album Deserter's Songs (1998) and its follow-up All I Dream (2001), New York's Mercury Rev were the gold standard for an elegantly psychedelic alt.rock band, and their association with Flaming Lips (Rev's multi-instrumentalist Dave Fridmann has been a long-time Lips producer) enhanced their allure and status. Then there were diminishing returns and fewer releases, and this -- their first in seven years - is a reduced Rev with Fridmann busy elsewhere. Much of their summershine, airy psyche-rock is still evident and mainman Jonathan Donahue's slightly surreal lyrics and floating vocals conjure up gravity-free states of mind. But where they once had some bite, this is more consistently cloud-blown glisten than grit. That said, eerily dreamy songs like the disembodied angst of Central Park East, the orchestrated pastoralism of Autumn's in the Air, the Lips-like Are You Ready? and the delicate Moth Light are bound to have wide appeal. Their sole rocker, Sunflower, and the poppy Rainy Day Record sound at odds with everything else, however. Not quite the return to form you'd hope for, but an undeniably pleasant soundtrack as the weather warms.
- Graham Reid (elsewhere.co.nz)
Dead Weather, Dodge and Burn
Artist: Dead Weather
Album: Dodge and Burn
Label: Third Man
Verdict: Third outing needs to be played loud
He's ruled out ever reforming The White Stripes and even suggested he may not tour any of his many musical projects anymore. If Jack White means what he says, it's a crying shame when it comes to The Dead Weather. The Third Man supergroup tops The Raconteurs and White's solo material with this, The Dead Weather's third album and their most consistent and engaging outing yet. Dodge and Burn deserves to be played as loud and as live as possible thanks to firecracker frontwoman Alison Mosshart, who can shriek and holler with the best of them.
"I'm a bad man, let me through," she sings on the fuzzed out blitz of Let Me Through, an attitude she continues on the bruising thump of I Feel Love (Every Million Miles) and the howling chorus of Lose the Right.
White's oddness still comes through in patches - check out his bonkers raps on the nu-metal punk of Three Dollar Hat for proof. But Mosshart helps temper his extremities. When they combine so brilliantly on Rough Detective, trading verses over the kind of blues-tinged rock White does so well, it's like he's forgotten about Meg completely. Forget about the White Stripes: the campaign to force another Dead Weather tour begins now.
- Chris Schulz
Beach House, Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars
Artist: Beach House
Album: Depression Cherry
Label: Sub Pop
Verdict: Spacious synths matched with misty vocals
Artist: Beach House
Album: Thank Your Lucky Stars
Label: Sub Pop
Verdict: Indie rock enters dream pop duo's sound
After the release of their 2012 album, Bloom, American dream pop duo Beach House took a break. They've been saving up their creative energy to put out not just one but two records this year. Depression Cherry dropped in August, while surprise album Thank Your Lucky Stars was unleashed without warning late last week. Both records are distinctly Beach House, with an ethereal mix of delicate synths and Victoria Legrand's misty vocals. Each record possesses a slightly different tone, which was apparently the inspiration to put the music out as two separate works.
On Depression Cherry the music drifts and drones from one song to the next feeling cool and melancholy, like Levitation's swirling and swelling sound. Sparks brings distorted electric guitar into the fold along with disjointed synths. The pace picks up slightly on PPP with a dusty drum beat, as keys and a sliding guitar push the melody forward. Days of Candy is a church hymn backed by echoey choir voices and Legrand singing airily, giving off a ghostly vibe.
Meanwhile, Thank Your Lucky Stars relies heavily on drums and guitar. Opening track Majorette feels musically uplifting, with its strong melody, up tempo beat and dreamy chimes embellishing the track. She's So Lovely and All Your Yeahs follow suit - coming across as more grounded and with more intensity than those on Depression Cherry.
You can also hear Alex Scally come through on tracks like Common Girl. There's a delightful feeling of unravelment as the record continues. Elegy To The Void's lyrics, "To your sons and daughters / Bending at the altar / Disappearing in the mirror", are matched by haunting vocals and a scratchy guitar solo. Both Beach House records grow on you with their otherworldly vibes, while taking slightly varied forms - the simplistic, sweetly-sad sound of Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars' rockier, layered dream beats.
- Rachel Bache
The Game, The Documentary 2 & 2.5
Artist: The Game
Album: The Documentary 2 & 2.5
Label: Blood Money
Verdict: Great moments get lost
Gangland bluster and rabid dog braggadocio are two things The Game is very good at. But in 2015, these aren't exactly attributes anyone wants to hear in hip-hop. Like contemporaries 50 Cent and G-Unit, that's meant The Game's career has been one of diminishing returns.
But last year's Blood Moon was a feisty, low-level comeback and his seventh record, billed as a sequel to his top-selling 2005 debut, promises to be different. Blessed by Dr Dre and with big name guests and producers at every turn, The Documentary 2 kicks off like the best Game album yet.
That's thanks to a run of songs that show surprising restraint: try On Me's summery soul and Don't Trip's throwback swagger. When Standing on Ferraris follows, it feels like The Game's doing a victory lap. Sadly, his form doesn't last, and the disc soon spills into cliched boasts, pathetic misogyny and dated rhymes. Already bloated with 19 tracks, The Documentary 2 comes with a 2.5 bonus disc that contains just one decent cut, the Skrillex-produced El Chapo.
A decent editor could have fashioned a great 12-track album out of all this, but as it stands it's an angry, confusing mess - much like The Game's career.
- Chris Schulz
Fat Freddy's Drop, Bays
Artist: Fat Freddy's Drop
Verdict: Both familiar and mind-bending
Sixteen years into their career and the local genre-mashing masters still avoid resting on their laurels: Bays sees the seven-piece outfit more focused and dynamic than ever.
Much like they did with 2013's Blackbird, they put the most Freddy's-sounding tracks up first, and then increasingly push boundaries. They warm you up, and then turn your head inside out.
There's a knowing swagger to Wairunga Blues, a blooming, celebratory vibe perfect to open the album, and Slings & Arrows is similarly fuelled with big horn lines and catchy melody, along with a strong reggae skank, and a comical intro of 90s Gameboy sounds.
10 Feet Tall introduces a touch of melancholy putting Dallas Tamaira's voice front and centre, while Wheels moves into a more experimental, jazz-influenced sphere, throbbing and trippy as it messes with rhythmic expectations and harmonic structures.
Techno influences emerge on tracks like the ominous Razor, which pulses with a heavy, chugging bass and dark lyrics, and the lighter, percussion driven Cortina Motors (their jammiest track). But it's Makkan which completely defies expectations and proves a highlight, with a touch of the Pacific creeping in, creating a super soulful, hypnotic, warming ballad.
The more you listen, the more you'll find to love.
- Lydia Jenkin
New Order, Music Complete
Artist: New Order
Album: Music Complete
Verdict: A mostly triumphant return for alt-dance-rock pioneers New Order
The ground New Order broke, fusing the spirit and sounds of post-punk with the pulsing dance grooves and mechanical beats of smiley face club culture, was truly revolutionary. The band's influence and legacy is assured, even if their last couple of releases haven't been.
Still, it's nice to be able to talk about new New Order tunes for a change. In the decade since their last album, the workmanlike Waiting for the Siren's Call, the band has been defined by the very public squabbling between mild-mannered vocalist/guitarist Bernard Sumner and outspoken bassist Peter Hook. After years of simmering resentment between the two, things finally reached a tipping point and Hooky quit the group back in 2007. Even now, eight long years later, the pair's public pot-shots continue.
Though Hook's departure deprives New Order of his iconic, high-pitched, melodic bass style, it has opened the door for original synth player Gillian Gilbert to return after a nearly 15-year absence.
Her influence is immediately felt. The first sounds you hear on Music Complete are her keys; a sparkly plinking arpeggio that's quickly enveloped into the trademark sound of her all-encompassing strings.
It sounds like New Order. It sounds good.
This first song Restless is also the album's first single. With its thoroughly infectious chorus how could it not be? It's a classic slice of New Order pop. Stephen Morris's spritely, shuffling drums pushing the track out of Sumner's melancholy. "I feel so restless / Ain't got no interest / I couldn't care less". Fortunately those lyrics don't act as a predictor of what's in store.
The first half of the album is simply superb. Clearly special care has been taken in the song-sequencing, with the opening five songs flowing into each other effortlessly.
Perhaps as homage to their triumphant, chart-topping Hacienda days, the band take you on a journey that perfectly mirrors club culture's chemical rhythms. The excitement and the beats gradually ramp up before finally exploding in a moment of disco euphoria with the fantastic funk/disco of Tutti Frutti and the piano-powered 90s house of People on the High Line.
If you think of this album as a party then track six, the Iggy Pop-voiced Stray Dog represents that moment of the night when you find yourself trapped talking to a crashing bore.
His gruff blather kills the vibe dead and the album never really recovers. It does eventually perk back up with Nothing but a Fool as the group pilfer a Sonic Youth riff and weave it into synth-pop gold, but that early album focus has gone. Not even a closing vocal appearance from ultimate fanboy and Killers frontman Brandon Flowers can fully bring it back.
So the record's not quite complete. It is, however, far better than expected, that first half especially. Let's hope New Order don't keep us waiting a decade for the next one.
- Karl Puschmann
Derek Lind, Solo
Artist: Derek Lind
Label: Someone Up There
Verdict: Big issues of life, death and love explored with attention to small detail
For two decades from the mid-80s, Derek Lind confirmed himself as among this country's finest singer-songwriters. He had a Herald entertainment cover for his exceptional 90 album Slippery Ground.
Then he went quiet and when his wife Ra, the mother of their three adult children, died two years ago it seemed we might not hear from him again. This handsomely presented double disc isn't just his return but has a rare emotional weight and lyrical depth.
An artist as much as a musician, his lyrics tap into different imagery (the outstanding Brunelleschi's Dome), pick up resonant references (Matisse, Alice Cooper, Don McLean's Vincent, John Prine, Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and more are seamlessly slipped in) and explore matters of faith, doubt, travel, politics, grace and, of course, loss.
Many of these songs - delivered with a small band - are ambiguous, so the personal becomes universal: Is that Ra or his God he's speaking to on the haunting Will You Rescue Me? And some songs ("I'm walking down a street named Tragedy on the outskirts of a town called Faith") might be the most heartbreaking you'll ever hear. Courageously cathartic and extraordinarily honest.
- Graham Reid (elsewhere.co.nz)
Silversun Pickups, Better Nature
Artist: Silversun Pickups
Album: Better Nature
Label: New Machine Recordings
Verdict: Pickups lose the element of surprise
A safe bet, a sure thing, a dead-set shoo-in. However you want to put it, Los Angeles' Silversun Pickups are exactly that. For nearly 10 years now they've delivered assured new albums so regularly you could almost set your watch to them.
Their fourth, Better Nature, is no different. The quartet still deliver catchy, occasionally moody, often rowdy alt-rock in the style of Smashing Pumpkins with front man Brian Aubert having the presence - but none of the weirdness - of Billy Corgan. This time around there are more electronic elements underpinning their soaring guitar-fired anthems, courtesy of producer Jackknife Lee.
There are two standout moments, with Pins & Needles and Friendly Fires delivering a crushing mid-album centrepiece. And when bassist Nikki Monninger picks up lead vocals on Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance) for the first time, she nails it, suggesting she should probably help Aubert out more often. But there's too much here that's forgettable - like the dreamy Ragamuffin, or the skittery Latchkey Kids, meaning Better Nature winds up being entirely competent and an absolutely worthy addition to their catalogue. But it's also worringly predictable. And in 2015, that's not a good thing.
- Chris Schulz
Introverted Dancefloor, Introverted Dancefloor
Artist: Introverted Dancefloor
Album: Introverted Dancefloor
Label: Carpark Records
Verdict: Inventive dance craftsman
New Zealander Bevan Smith has been making music for years under a variety of different names: Signer, Aspen, and Skallander, crossing genres from folk to ambient, electro to RnB. The thread which runs through them all is an elegant sense of melody and subtle emotion, and both those elements remain in his new project Introverted Dancefloor, while also blending in pop and disco aspects, circling around his sweet, high voice.
Fans of Hot Chip will find plenty to love, with opening track and early single Happiness Is Such A Mess memorable not only for it's incisive title but it's earworm chorus and percussive propulsion.
Smith is a craftsman of layers, and uses that skill to great advantage, weaving synth lines and effects in an airy, light-filled style, never overburdening a track. There's an easy groove that makes the album hugely danceable, but Smith also retains a sort of fantastical, dreamy effect and a series of small motifs that recur throughout the album, making it storylike. The more ambient, instrumental tracks are less immediately attractive, and lose some of the motion and emotion Smith establishes early on, but they have a dark cinematic quality which rewards repeat listens.
- Lydia Jenkin
Rudimental, We The Generation
Album: We the Generation
Label: Asylum Records
Verdict: Something to get you pumped for the summer
Summer is just around the corner and Rudimental have taken the sun-drenched season, shaken it up and poured it straight into their new album We The Generation.
This time around the British band mix their drum 'n' bass breakbeats with a soulful reggae vibe, layering harmonies and brass instruments over the electronic sounds. As on their debut album Home, Rudimental have gathered a group of artists to collaborate with on various songs throughout the album, including Foy Vance, Ella Eyre and the late Bobby Womack.
But it's the singles Lay It All On Me and Bloodstream, written with pop sensation Ed Sheeran, that stand out most on We The Generation. Bloodstream already became a big hit when Sheeran featured an acoustic version on his album X in 2014. Having the song on We The Generation feels like Rudimental are laying claim to their original EDM version, while Lay It All On Me is more relaxed with keys and drums driving the equally catchy track.
Opener I Will For Love kicks the record off with festival vibes, enough to get anyone raving as it builds up and drops in all the right places. Newcomers Anne-Marie and Will Heard share a chilled duet on the synth-filled Rumour Mill. MNEK's smooth falsetto on Common Emotion is reminiscent of the vibe when Sam Smith teams up with British duo Disclosure. And New Day with Bobby Womack is funk-heavy with an electric guitar riff delivering an old rock 'n' roll feel. Halfway through the track a drum and bass beat kicks in and swells throughout the rest of the song.
Not all the tracks on We The Generation are ravers, but Rudimental have definitely put a lot of heart and soul into their second album.
- Rachel Bache
Kurt Vile, B'lieve I'm Goin Down
Artist: Kurt Vile
Album: B'lieve I'm Goin Down
Verdict: Lulling listeners into a grunge coma since 2008
"Lazy" and "meandering" aren't words rock stars usually want to be associated with. When it comes to Kurt Vile, they're entirely appropriate. With his long hair, denim, and feet-up-on-the-porch jams, the Pennsylvania indie-rocker has been drawing on mid-90s grunge to deliver brilliantly cruisy anthems for five albums now.
Vile's success hasn't inspired him to turn up the volume - if anything, B'lieve I'm Goin Down finds the 35-year-old in an even mellower mood. The dreamy Wheelhouse and acoustic ballad All in a Daze Work are best experienced from the comfort of a bean bag. Vile's sixth album feels instantly familiar from the opening moments of Pretty Pimpin and delivers more with each listen, thanks to his casually complicated storytelling.
Vile mixes up singing, spoken word and occasional rapped mumbles with lyrics that prove he has a fine sense of humour. "I'm an outlaw on the brink of self-implosion," he sings, "Alone in the crowd going nowhere slow". You'd be silly not to follow this denim-clad slacker wherever he goes.
- Chris Schulz
Mac Miller, GO:OD AM
Artist: Mac Miller
Album: GO:OD AM
Verdict: Rapper surprises with mature third album
If you based your opinion of Mac Miller on his early output, chances are you're not a fan. The Pittsburgh rapper used his first mixtapes to showcase his love for bratty rap pranks, scoring an early hit with his billionaire-baiting single Donald Trump.
Miller has used his studio albums to slowly phase out his Jackass antics, and the result is a career that's been much more interesting to follow. His 2013 album Watching Movies with the Sound Off included production by Flying Lotus and Pharrell, while GO:OD AM, the follow-up to 2014's excellent mixtape Faces, finds Miller in an ever-expansive mood. Here, he shows renewed focus, especially on Brand Name's smooth soul and the throwback attitude of Rush Hour and Two Matches, with Miller adapting to beats that remind nicely of hip-hop's 90s peaks.
As the basic bass lope and misogynistic antics of In the Bag shows, Miller's still prone to bursts of silliness, but it's a minor blip. GO:OD AM is an excellent instalment in the career of a rapper who surely deserves to be crowned rap's most improved player.
- Chris Schulz
Cosmic Radio Station, The Shifting Sands
Artist: Cosmic Radio Station
Album: The Shifting Sands
Verdict: The South will rise again, psychedelicised.
Time to go reminded us of the downer psych-rock out of the South Island in the 80s with familiar names like the Clean, Chills and Puddle alongside the barely-recalled Wrecks Small Speakers and the Victor Dimisich Band.
This three-piece from Port Chalmers-Adjacent explore similar territory in the 21st century. So here be gloriously under-fi drone-scuzz psyche-rock (the shoe-gaze Make It Through), a coming-down-again instrumental, Whareakeake (with mournful violin) and ear-damaging rock, which says: "Never mind the quality, come feel the noise 'n' feedback" (Dreaming to Keep Awake).
To Shifting Sands' credit, if not a lot screams originality, they do know the merit of economy (40 minutes suits my concentration span). The appropriate closer, Radio Silence, with the Clean's David Kilgour, is a lovely astral psyche-dreamscape. If this beamed into your private radio station and you were in a cosmic mood, you'd be very receptive.
- Graham Reid (elsewhere.co.nz)