In October 2022 The Orielles released their third album “Tableau”. It’s a brilliant experimental pop double album. “The Instrument” shared here is a belter, with the kind of nagging guitar line Alan Rankine would weave through early Associates’ songs.

The Orielles are sisters Esmé Hand-Halford (vocals and bass), Sidonie Hand-Halford (drums) and Henry Carlyle-Wade (guitar). Originally from Halifax, West Yorkshire, the band has been based in Manchester for the past 5 years.

The album is a sprawling (in the best possible sense of the word) masterpiece. If you’ve ever enjoyed adventurous music falling loosely within the ‘pop’ idiom while pushing the boundaries (I’m thinking Stereolab, Broadcast, The Associates, Talk Talk (in their post-pop era), Movietone, Slowdive, Tortoise… ) this is a contemporary album of adventurous avant-pop. “Tableau” sometimes dips into experimental almost neo-classical, and free jazz improv territory without losing that melodic pop heart. There’s an ecstatic quality to the experimentation at times, as songs break down and re-shape, and the album works as an immersive experience more than a collection of standalone songs (though it has plenty of those as well).

Of all the recent Bandcamp purchases I’ve made this year, “Tableau” is the one I keep returning to most.

There’s also a live album – “Live at Stoller Hall” – released this month from a set of mostly “Tableau” tracks.

Vanessa Worm originated in the Dunedin underground electronic/ experimental scene that developed in the now defunct None Gallery performance space. A move to Melbourne and EP releases on Glasgow’s Optimo dance label were followed by a hard to categorise first album “Vanessa 77”. Now back in NZ and based in Auckland, Worm has self-released a follow-up album “Mosaics”.  Here’s “Lost Memories”:

The music on “Mosaics” – written, produced and mixed by Tessa Forde (Vanessa Worm) – could be called “electronic” or “dance” or “minimal techno” or “industrial” or “experimental”, or all of the above, but its wilful oddness ensures “Mosaics” doesn’t fit easily in any comfortable singular music category or genre.

Some tracks start out as pneumatic techno or almost smooth Kruder & Dorfmeister style Balearic electronica before they are sucked through the Worm-hole to end up disturbed and disturbing ruminations, while one abandons electronic music altogether for post-punk guitar/bass/drums/vocals.

“Mosaics” might be a break up album of sorts, it seems to be processing trauma in a uniquely Worm way, with unconventional and distinctive vocalising ranging from creepy mouth-sound-effects sometimes bordering on demonic possession to confrontational echo-effected malevolent punk sneer. 

Although “Mosaics” is even less easily pigeon-holed than Vanessa Worm’s first album and spins in a wide orbit from its electronic dance music base, it is just as gloriously, subversively great as “Vanessa 77”.

HUMAN is the first single of a 3 piece hailing from Ōtepoti called [Allophones].

It’s 2 minutes and 23 second long and packs a lot of goodness into that concise duration. It’s part heavy psych-rock, part glam, part prog and the vocals simultaneously soar and sneer.

[Allophones] are Barney (guitar) and Ben Connolly (bass) with Tane Cotton (drums). Having supported the likes of Garageland, and The Chills last year the trio have just embarked on a 12 date tour of NZ throughout February.

There’s an entertaining video for the song…

“These are the last days of the internet. It’s over now.”

Was it just coincidence or deliberate and perfect timing that Auckland philosophers The New Existentialists released their song “Last Days of the Internet” on the same day Melon Husk’s billionaire-sized ego took over the social media ‘micro-blogging’ site Twitter?

Start your own conspiracy theory here if you dare. But if you heed the advice of the song it’s best you don’t get involved, lest you you joined some crowd we later disavowed.

“Last Days of the Internet” is from the new 5 song EP from The New Existentialists, recorded to perfection by Matthew Heine earlier this year, which will be officially released as a Bandcamp download and Powertool CD on the 28th October.

The New Existentialists are the Auckland ensemble of George D. Henderson (The Spies, The And Band, Mink, The Puddle). TNE released an album called “Poetry is Theft” a year ago. The year before that they released an album called Didn’t Have Time” which was a collection of works in progress rather than a proper, planned album release, not that anyone noticed. 

In between times GDH Smoke Machine released the “Booklovers” album (a cassette release, the title track recently featured on Carla Dal Forno‘s monthly NTS Radio show).

There’s also a fine video for the song…

The last PopLib post was almost two months ago. I’ve been crafting posts for PopLib for 10 years now. This will be the 900th post. Over the past 10 years the posts have been viewed over 100,000 times and it’s all of you reading this that have kept me doing it – because it takes time, and doesn’t pay, and WordPress is a frustrating mess at times….

But I hit the wall at the end of August. Just couldn’t find the energy or enthusiasm to write another post. I’ve still been discovering new music, and thinking I should write about it… but just unable to do so… until now.

It turned out that all I needed to break the spell was to hear a band in thrall of Scotland’s finest Shop Assistants. The thump of a primitive floor tom and snare beat, thrashing fuzzy jangling electric guitar, propulsive distorted bouncing bassline, and instantly memorable melodic hook of the vocals in the 1 minute 30 sprint of “No Alternative” from New York trio Ribbon Stage has provided an electric shock to restart the heart.

OK, I’ve run out of things to say now. But “No Alternative” doesn’t need to be written about. Just listen to it. One and a half minutes you’ll not regret. Pop perfection. Also nailed absolutely everything that made (and still makes) Shop Assistants such a great band. There’s hopefully more like this on the album but I can’t get past this song yet…

If you love Dumb Things as much as I do you’ll adore Renovator’s Delight, the solo+friends band of Dumb Things guitarist/ vocalist Madeleine Keinonen, who has just released a first album “Bark All Night”. It’s delightfully melodic and jangling guitar pop, and “Head In The Clouds” here could be a long lost Magick Heads song. It’s a beauty. The whole album is.

The phrase “renovator’s delight” is a real estate agent’s euphemism for an old ‘character house’ that has seen better days, requiring re-piling, re-plumbing, new electrics and replacement windows, bathroom kitchen etc. In other words, a money pit. However your commitment of $11 AUD for the digital album or $32 AUD plus postage for the LP of “Bark All Night” is a sound investment. No hard work required here, but many hours of rewarding listening guaranteed.

As with Dumb Things, Renovator’s Delight does the simple stuff exceptionally well. Guitar & bass, drums, Keinonen’s unaffected vocals, and some additional texture from clarinet, violin, and, well, bowed saw of course. As with Dumb Things, Keinonen’s lyrics are observational, slice-of-life stuff, and work with the homespun music and arrangements.

“Bark All Night” seems to display as much of a strong stylistic link to southern New Zealand jangle pop past (Robert Scott and his bands Magick Heads, and The Bats) and present (check the forthcoming album by Jim Nothing if you like your laconic jangling guitar pop served with violin), as there is to the legions of Australian jangling guitar pop icons past and present. Quietly essential.

As bonus content, here’s the video for the opening track “Bucket of Water”:

Ben Woods is now two albums deep into a singular journey to the heart of “Antipodean Gothic”. His first solo album “PUT” set the scene, but retained something of the recognisable guitar-pop roots of his previous role as wielder of a Gibson Flying-V guitar in bands like Wurld Series etc. His latest journey to slowed-down weird-pop is “Dispeller” and the opening track is “Fame”:

“Fame” is a strange, slow, woozy thing. Reminds me a bit of The Everly Brothers’ “All I have To Do Is Dream” but this dream is an unsettling, disorienting one, in which the dreamer is slowly falling, forever.

“Dispeller” features less guitar than “PUT” – and what guitar there is if often stripped to the minimum – and more piano, and also more sonic musical – and anti-musical – sound treatments assembled, stretched, twisted, distressed, disordered…

As “Fame” indicates there’s melodic pop still at the heart of the warped songs, and many haunting moments among the sonic ruins. Woods is joined on vocals by Charlotte Forrester (WOMB) on two tracks and Lucy Hunter (Opposite Sex, Wet Specimen) on one, adding additional spectral counterpoints to Woods’ soothing croon. The album may take a few plays to re-orientate the listeners into this world, but once settled these songs are things of strange beauty.

There are moments throughout “Dispeller” that remind me of the DIY sonic experimentation of Tall Dwarfs, the damaged pop of Sparklehorse, and the hypnotic minimalism of Spaceman 3. The overwhelming sense here is of classic slow pop music warped and twisted through a kind of Twin Peaks lens; a deeply personal performance beaming from the Black Lodge’s Red Room.

“To other New Zealanders, Christchurch seems to be a desolate, xenophobic, flat city, which in the wake of a series of natural disasters is being sparsely put back together by a bunch of brutal development moguls. It’s also a city with a thriving indie rock scene, unspoiled by commercial interests and held together by bands all drawing from the same small pool of members and venues. Christchurch has a rare grit.” [From the Bandcamp notes to “PUT”]

The name’s Nothing. Jim Nothing. I like my secret alt-pop agents under-stated, DIY, and a bit rough-hewn around the edges. I like them even more when they arrive with a new album out of nowhere after several years of, well, nothing, and floor you with strange, unexpected new sounds. In this case, lo-fi, DIY, cassette release Jim Nothing has simultaneously fulfilled, exceeded, and confounded early promise. Collaborating with an avante-garde violinist/vocalist Anita Clark (Motte) is an unexpected turn for a shambling jangling fuzzy guitar pop Nothing. On the strength of the two initial songs released ahead of Jim Nothing’s “In The Marigolds” album in September, it’s a glorious combination. Here’s “Yellow House”:

It’s been 7 years since the initial run of 2 cassette EPs and a split cassette EP with Wurld Series. Since then Nothing’s alter-ego James Sullivan has been busy in all manner of bands, including drummer for Salad Boys. This time round the ubiquitous Brian Feary is drumming, while also recording, mixing, mastering “In The Marigolds”. Feary is the heart & soul of Christchurch’s underground DIY scene and Melted Ice Cream Records, a 21st century Chris Knox if you like, without the jandals and shorts.

But it’s the pairing of melodic string instrument talents with violinist and vocalist Anita Clark (her own extraordinary sound explorations under the name Motte) that gives these two initial songs (and presumably the whole album) an unexpected melodic richness and sonic balance. Clark’s violin parts on “Yellow House” evoke the dark drone spirit The Velvet Underground’s John Cale in the verse, and the melodic flight of The Go-Between’s Amanda Brown in the chorus.

The album is released on vinyl – a white and black option – and will have a European release too via Meritorio Records in Madrid, Spain. It was an instant “Buy Now” for me on the strength of these two tracks. Can’t wait to get lost in the marigolds with Jim Nothing in a few months when this is fully released.

Adiós Amores hail from Seville, Spain and their first album brings together a string of three glorious 7″ singles they released in 2020 and 2021 plus two new songs to start and end the album. The album is cheekily – but accurately – called “Sus Mejores Canciones” (“Their Best Songs”). And what songs these are. It’s hard to pick just one song to represent what’s on offer – should it be one of the frenetic flamenco surf guitar pop songs featuring fairground keyboards, the bhangra (?) disco song that closes the album, or one of the beautifully arranged melancholic 60’s-styled guitar pop songs? “Charlotte” falls into the latter category, and also showcases the duo’s twinned vocal harmonies:

The duo of Iman Amar and Ana Valladares are from the south of Spain, geographically distant from the main centres. Perhaps it is the way that musicians in out-of-the-way places (eg: here in Dunedin) can sometimes draw creative inspiration from being outsiders, and not being caught up in whatever the ‘zeitgeist’ may be in the music industry at the time, but there’s something of the imagination and sonic world of Adiós Amores that sets itself apart from much else I can think of.

First time I heard the album (thanks to a Monorail Music newsletter when the Glasgow music shop made it their album of the month) it reminded me of the lurid, strange films of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. I can’t remember the soundtrack music in those films, but this is the sort of music that would fit perfectly.

The songs and arrangements and interwoven voices have an air of 1960s European pop about them. But for every melancholic classic pop tune like “Charlotte” here there’s a frenetic hybrid explosion of sound, combining twangy surf guitars, fairground organ, and Flamenco castanets, and even some exotic dancefloor disco on the closing “Noche Illuminada”.

Tāmaki Makaurau/ Auckland sound designer/ composer/ writer/ musician/ singer Frances Libeau’s recorded and performance sound project i. e. crazy returns with a textured electronic/ sound collage swamp-pop ode to the watery parts of the city’s harbour fringe, “Wetlands”:

The song has some ‘trip-hop’ electronic vibes, but its industrial whirr and clatter is rendered almost organic by the sonic arrangement here where the music and non-music sound layers entangle each other to emulate the claustrophobic sticky warm air, ripe with decay, and the cross-hatched thickets of plant-life crowding the edges of swampy coastal marsh wetlands.

It’s a perfect setting for a typically unsettling lyrical reflection inspired by frequent visits to Western Springs’ Lakeside Te Wai Ōrea park.  As the song progresses there’s also a lush and woozy cinematic orchestral tone colours the soundscape too. Dank and dark of course, but also ultimately weirdly uplifting. Here’s to more in this vein.

The i. e. crazy website has a recorded music page which has a reverse chronological journey through one of the richest and deepest catalogues of NZ alt-pop-craft. Go explore it – all the way back to Dear Time’s Waste – if you are not familiar.