Our latest pick of standout albums includes new releases from English vocalist and songwriter Marika Hackman, Brazilian guitarist and composer Fabiano do Nascimento, multi-instrumentalist Nailah Hunter and New Zealand alt rock group Office DogTags: Music,
"Occupy your mind, don’t stay home/Talk to all your friends, but don’t look at your phone/ Scream into a bag, try to turn your brain off.” Marika Hackman remains a fearless chronicler of her anxious inner life, as evidenced in lyrics from her latest album Big Sigh. With her fifth record, however, the sharply observant singer / songwriter presents a new perspective.
The title reflects her relief on finishing the album, which took her two years to write rather than her usual 10 months or so. It features compellingly open and honest missives from modern life, addressing new love (in album track ‘Slime’), self-doubt (in ‘Vitamins’), the imagined freedom of never considering others (‘Please Don’t Be So Kind’) and more. All this is carried by intriguingly bent guitar chords, catchy choruses and vivid lyrics. Hackman plays every instrument except the brass and strings and also co-produced the record, and its combined quiet confidence, nuance and big heart make for a rewarding listen. Highlights include the delicate ‘Vitamins’, which brings to mind the music of Talk Talk and Eno, and a sweetly solemn, slow-building ‘Blood’.
Fabiano do Nascimento & Sam Gendel
In his 20-plus years as an LA resident, Brazilian seven-string guitarist, composer and arranger Fabiano do Nascimento has worked with several acclaimed players from the city’s mutant-jazz scene, including Carlos Niño, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and saxophonist Sam Gendel. do Nascimento was cast as a guest on Gendel’s 4444 album and in 2013, the pair teamed up to record Sul, a set of traditional South American folk tunes arranged by do Nascimento.
Recorded in just two days, their latest collaboration The Room takes up where Sul left off. Many of its tracks use old Brazilian popular songs and melodies and/or rhythms from various Latin American folk tunes as a springboard. However, all are originals. As well as the precision of their playing, the simpático nature of the musicians’ relationship is obvious, born of their mutual admiration of Hermeto Pascoal and other Brazilian jazz giants. It’s a silken and seductive set, light on its feet, full of sweet ’n’ airy soul and dazzling in its instrumental interplay. What often sounds uncannily like a flute (e.g. in the fluttering ‘Até da Manhã’ and deliciously forlorn ‘Tupi’) is in fact Gendel’s soprano sax. do Nascimento’s percussive picking and pacey tapping make ‘Astral Flowers’ a standout, alongside ‘Kewere’, where effortlessly fluid countermelodies deliver both romance and pep.
Released January 26.
Label: Real World
Long associated with Celtic folk, classical and New Age music, the harp can now be heard in very different worlds. Experimental folk musician Joanna Newsom set the young, contemporary ball rolling in the early Noughties, while her peer Mary Lattimore has earned a cult following in the same field. More recently, Brandee Younger and Zeena Parkins have spread the gospel in the US with their folding of jazz, soul and funk into the classical harp canon. Nala Sinephro and Marysia Osu tread similar ground in the UK. None of this would have been possible, of course, without pioneering jazz-harp practitioners Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane.
Picking up the baton is LA-based composer and multi-instrumentalist Nailah Hunter. Her debut long-player album is an electro-acoustic set of hushed, charcoal-toned, alt-R&B tracks that move her almost otherworldly voice to centrestage, while also spotlighting the harp and piano. Fittingly, the title suggests rapture and bewitchment: Lovegaze is a portal to a dream or liminal state, at its most captivating in the melancholic, future-R&B of ‘Finding Mirrors’, the title track, with its dark, vaporous synth clouds, and ‘Adorned’, which suggests Anohni duetting with Billie Holiday in a cathedral.
Label: Fat Possum
It’s arguably absurd to categorise any band according to geographic origin. However, since the tag ‘the Dunedin sound’ has become widely understood (if also debated) in the alt/experimental-rock and indie-pop worlds, it’s fair to acknowledge the roots of this New Zealand trio, which play to their advantage, rather than making them slavish imitators.
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Kane Strang is a Dunedin native (now based in Auckland) who released his solo debut on Flying Nun, the storied NZ label that championed many of the city’s bands from the early ’80s onwards, and was home to The Clean, Straightjacket Fits and Bailterspace. It’s their ghosts that hover over Office Dog’s debut, guiding its guitar churn, fuzz, jangle and wiry twangle as well as its ineffable forlornness. There are hints of Sonic Youth’s more trippily melodic side (on opener ‘Shade’) and Rodan (‘Antidote’) too, but Spiel casts its own shadow – as the fragile, faintly psychedelic ‘Warmer’ and ‘Cut The Ribbon’, with its switch between drifting and lurching forward, demonstrate.
Label: New West