Shopping released their 4th album “All Or Nothing” in 2020. Here’s the driving post-punk exhortation of “Initiative”:

“Initiative” is perfect post-punk. It’s like the essence of the likes of Wire and Gang of Four in all their fierce tightly-packed rhythmic-melodic best has been distilled into something even more crisply focused and compelling.

Shopping create music from propulsive hypnotic bass lines, four-to-the-floor drums, concise guitar lines that embroider the space between the bass and drums, and vocals that provide a personal narrative of “change, heartbreak and personal evolution”.

The band – mostly now Glasgow based – was formed in 2012 by members Rachel Aggs (guitar), Billy Easter (bass) and Andrew Milk (drums), with links to various other UK DIY bands including Trash Kit and Wet Dog.

Shopping were only a few dates into a US tour in 2020 when the pandemic ended their tour just after they recorded a KEXP radio session. There’s also a cracking live version of “Initiative” on that 4 song release which is also available on their bandcamp page.

Waterfalls (Anber Johnson) returns with a new single for 2021 and a show tonight at Dive in Dunedin along with crone and Death and the Maiden:

“Impressionistic” is an ever-morphing thing, beginning with sparse keyboard and vocals which give no indication of what is ahead. Soon enough the song loads up clanging percussion which adds evolving rhythmic and tonal twists and turns and a popping sequencer synth bass line.

It’s an unusual and glorious fusion of a kind of misty echoing dreampop with darker electronic dance music and looped sampled beats.

Waterfalls performs at Dive in Dunedin tonight, Saturday 16 January 2021, along with another Wellington/ Pōneke electronic duo crone and Dunedin’s electronic dream-pop post-punk electronic adventurers Death and the Maiden.

Posted this song “Nap Gate” last year when it was released as a single, but now it is the first track shared ahead of the March release of the Wurld Series album “What’s Growing” so here it is again, as a fitting semi-psychedelic-Sunday aural feast:

Wurld Series has been creating little gems of EPs for a few years now. Previous releases were generally on the lo-to-medium-fidelity end of the spectrum; perfect for the DIY melodic pop with fuzzy wandering lead guitar lines.

Sure, they have always had a “Pavement-y” kind of slacker guitar pop vibe, as much from the low key singing of Wurld Series songwriter/ guitarist/ vocalist Luke Towart. But the music also weaves in a bit of the loopy off-kilter style of lead guitar that local 90s legends the 3Ds were known for (and who arguably influenced Pavement) as well as the fuzzy melodic feel-good factor from Teenage Fanclub’s “Bandwagonesque” album.

“Nap Gate” is less lo-fi than some of the previous recordings but packs all the familiar ingredients. The lead guitar parts here – from Adam Hattaway – are spectacular too, which should be no surprise if you have listened to the Adam Hattaway and the Haunters album “All Dat Love”.

The Wurld Series band is from Christchurch, NZ (the original home of Flying Nun Records) and has always had a revolving line up from release to release. Towart now sees Wurld Series as “less of a band and more of a music-making guild, with a changing line-up that depends on who is present for recording sessions at the band’s lock-up space in the industrial suburb of Woolston.”

Roll on the release of “What’s Growing” in March in a limited LP run. Here’s what they say the album contains:

“The songs contained in What’s Growing are submerged within reeling guitar, hypnotic mellotron and meditative drones. Lyrical themes include post apocalyptic living, extraterrestrial visitation, TV game show monsters and the workplace as a dreamlike medieval dystopia. At times traces of Tall Dwarfs or The 3Ds can be heard. More obvious American 90’s indie rock influences are also evident, alongside a clear strain of unsettling, pastoral British psych folk that runs throughout the album. What’s Growing is a compact statement of intent; a collage of full-noise indie rock recordings and minimal, psychedelic, and homespun artefacts.”

It’s an understatement to say “What’s Growing” promises a diverse range of intriguing sounds. Based on the reliability of every previous Wurld Series release it’s definitely worth considering pre-ordering now if you want to ensure a copy of the LP in March.

“There’s no way out but fight” sings Ela Minus in “Megapunk”, a very cool electro-pop anthem with equal parts dark-wave and dance-floor appeal. This 2020 single seems as good a way as any to kick-start 2021:

“Megapunk” is a timeless electronic dance pop anthem. It’s a bit dark and walks the line between being sinister at the same time as being an uplifting call to arms, as much personal as political. The dark undertones here are reminiscent of the kind of shadow-dark regions of electro-pop inhabited by Dunedin darkwave trio Èlan Vital on their only album “Shadow Self”.

The music of Ela Minus (real name Gabriela Jimeno, and originally from Bogota, Colombia) first appeared on PopLib some 5 years ago and everything heard since has had a rare quality. Well-crafted melodic songs with pop hooks, yet without sounding formulaic. The songs were constructed within skeletons of electronic sounds, programmed beats and miniature sonic detailing. Voice and lyrics added a compelling human connection. Where it sounded different was the electronica was soft toned and playful, with plenty of adventure and action-packed spacey minimalism, full of tiny subtle details. It just sounded right and very good.

Fortunately Domino Recordings reached a similar conclusion and have now a released an album. “Megapunk” was released as a single ahead of the “acts of rebellion” album, which it is also included on.

The album is a varied collection of personal/ political dance-floor electro-pop interwoven with some more experimental soundscapes which work alongside the more structured tunes to set the album’s mood and darker non-conformist electronica textures.

Maria Papadomanolaki (Dalot) & Nhung Nguyen (Sound Awakener)

“Night-time, Long Paths” is from the album “Departures”, the second joint release between Greek sound artist Maria Papadomanolaki (Dalot) and Vietnamese composer Nhung Nguyen (Sound Awakener). 

The first Dalot & Sound Awakener collaboration album “Little Things” was a more upbeat and optimistic collection of soundscapes. “Departures” also combines field recordings from cities and natural surroundings with synth sounds, but this time to create unsettling atmospheric soundscapes; darker, more mysterious, reflecting on themes like migration, and the challenges/ uncertainty of human movement around the world.

“Night-time, long path” has a pulse of sorts, a kind of propulsive breathing loop, woven through with sounds, drones and textures. It seems partly terrestrial, with hints of human voices in the fog, but also somehow not of this Earth. The field recordings here – as they are throughout “Departures” – seem smudged, giving them a kind of soft-focus dream-state quality that hints at their settings and conveys a sense of movement, exploration, dislocation, tension, and uncertainty.

That disorienting and subtle interweaving of the mechanical with the more organic sounds, drones and textures of nature and human city-scapes and travel hubs is at the heart of all the tracks on “Departures”. The album delivers something quite special, evocative of the uncertain terrain of our current altered reality as much as it is of alternative realities and journeys through space and time. It’s a place to close you eyes and let your mind wander on a journey into uncharted worlds from the safe confines of your own home. “Departures” is as fitting a way to end 2020 as anything.

Prison Choir are a seven member band from Wellington combining a diverse range of musical backgrounds into something intriguing. “Tongue” is their first single, ahead of an EP in 2021.

Prison choir’s “Tongue” starts off sparse, breathy whispered vocals over electric guitar arpeggios, like waking up from a particularly good dream and, in that initial moment of groggy recalibration, trying to make sense of the connection between the dream world and the real world. Wellington/ Pōneke does have a strong ‘neo-folk’ scene creating odd but dreamy transcendent but unusual music (thinking WOMB in particular and the general Sonorous Circles roster), so expectations may be set in those initial moments of the song.

But by the time that trumpet blast kicks in you get a sense this is no longer going to follow the path of Wellington’s neo-folk scene. Instead the song transforms into something more akin to the the fabulous hyper-melodic multi-dimensional world of The Polyphonic Spree. It shifts gear to euphoric bustling chamber pop with instruments swirling in the clouds. It’s a little bit psychedelic – the dream spell is not entirely broken – and there is a lot going on within the song’s 2 minutes 26 seconds.

Prison Choir are Xanthe Brookes (bass, vocals, guitar), Carla Camilleri (synth, vocals), Christian Dimick (guitar, vocals), Josh Finegan (drums), Sam Curtiss (guitar), Tharushi Bowatte (trumpet), and Olivia Wilding (cello). The mercurial craft and brevity of “Tongue” serves as a very effective introduction and a tempter for the upcoming EP.

Detroit producer Waajeed has just released “Acts of Love Mixtape : Act Two“, part of series of EPs he has produced and arranged, and released in the past two months via his label DIRT TECH RECK. All profits support Underground Music Academy, a Detroit based community music hub, which aims to build the future leaders of independent electronic music. Here’s the closing track “Ayyye”:

Waajeed is one of the innovators of the Detroit techno electronic music scene, reputedly starting out by repairing a broken Akai MPC workstation given to him by J Dilla.

“Ayyye” is a different beast from much of the other sounds on the two “Acts of Love Mixtape” EPs, with it’s almost Afro-beat instrumentation and rhythms over programmed beats. It reminded me in a round-about way of some of the off-kilter sounds on one of my favourite local albums of 2020 (local-via-Melbourne-and-Glasgow), Vanessa Worm’s “Vanessa 77”.

But this track is really just a stepping off point to explore the Waajeed catalogue available on Bandcamp. Right now I’m stuck in the extraordinary diverse 2018 album “From The Dirt”. There’s a detailed article and interview from October 2020 with Waajeed at The Face here if you really want to fall down the Detroit techno rabbit hole in 2020.

The Chills have just released a new song out of the (night of chill) blue. It’s both familiar Chills and also a bit different, bold and majestically epic.

“You’re Immortal” carries off the kind of ambitious flourishes Martin Phillipps has often strived for (thinking of the recently re-issued “Submarine Bells” and “Soft Bomb” albums released in the band’s early 1990s peak, also available via The Chills bandcamp).

The horns may be intended to convey a kind of Love “Forever Changes” baroque pop feel but it also evokes the film soundtrack music of John Barry and also Ennio Morricone when the layered choral voices come in. It all serves as glorious counterpoint embellishing a classic and instantly memorable Chills song for the ages.

As Phillipps explains: “These are unprecedented times but, as usual, the young feel invulnerable and the elders are concerned. The old people (like me) want to feel more involved but they also know that their time of influence has largely passed. So we learn from the young and admire them as they make their own mistakes yet still, hopefully, shape extraordinary history we could not have imagined.”

As we closed in on the end of this year of years Massachusetts institution Magik Markers presented us with the wild ride of a new album called simply “2020”; a free-ranging journey beyond the mainstream of rock and into some chaotic landscapes. Here’s the ramshackle psychedelic glory of “CDROM”:

The possessed-sounding “CDROM” takes guitarist Elisa Ambrogio’s stream-of-conciousness storytelling, with Pete Nolan’s tumbling drums keeping things on edge and John Shaw’s bass holding everything together. Things get weird. That’s a Magik Markers trademark, as well as 2020 (the year) feature.

The songs on “2020” have the unpredictable dangerous energy of early Sonic Youth and also the wild unhinged fire of The Velvet Underground at their incendiary noisy best. But that doesn’t mean this is some retro-fuelled re-grouping of familiar touchstones.

Throughout “2020” Magik Markers take their own hard-to-define path through the wreckage, subverting any stylistic norms. Delicate in places, blasts of sonic energy in other places, from Ambrogio’s extraordinary untethered guitar playing which takes uncharted improvisational flights, in a psychedelic post-punk / experimental noise-rock kind of way.

So buckle up and take a trip through “2020” with Magik Markers.

Sydney’s Soft Covers snuck out a six song cassette EP in August, but it only came onto the Poplib radar in December, thanks to a tip off from Dumb Things. We love Dumb Things here at PopLib, so when Dumb Things say “some of us are also in Soft Covers” that’s all we need to listen. Here’s “Grow”:

No idea who is in Soft Covers, because such information is not revealed. But it is certainly Dumb Things-adjacent, having that unmistakable Australian ambling guitar pop charm, constructed of simple but enduring ingredients (guitar, bass, drum, voices and the occasional extravagance of a reedy keyboard melody). Soft Covers promise “homemade and well-loved pop, taken out of the oven a little too early and left out on the line a little too long” and deliver on that promise.

“Grow” with it’s plaintive “why won’t you grow, to something worthwhile?” is either about a plant or, more likely, a person of interest. Doesn’t matter either way, it’s a perfect simple song. There are 5 more of them on the EP.