Listening Post: Nadia Reid/J Cole/Aquaserge/Tift Merritt

The Sunday Star-Times weekly wrap of new music.

New Zealand singer songwriter Nadia Reid performs St Jerome's Laneway Festival last year.
Fiona Goodall

New Zealand singer songwriter Nadia Reid performs St Jerome's Laneway Festival last year.

Nadia Reid

Preservation 

(The Label)

★★★★

There's something otherworldly about Nadia Reid. Maybe it's her haunted, rich voice, the dense, reverb-laden sound that fills her records, or even her shy and bespectacled persona. In other words, she's a bit of a mystery. It's this enigmatic feeling that runs deeply through Preservation, Reid's second album. And all for the best, because what an album it is. It's clear that she's successfully avoided the dreaded sophomore trap. Preservation may even be better than her debut - Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs - with a thick, echoey sound and wonderfully melodic, intelligent tunes. Most of the songs ease along, with gentle finger-picking guitar accompanied by subtle drumming and Sam Taylor's gritty, fluttery guitar work. It's relentlessly pretty, if often melancholic. Kicking off with the wistful title track, it winds its way through tales of people and places from Reid's past and present. There's Richard, about a man "who liked the sound of his own voice"; the dark Te Aro, touching on her time in (as she likes to say) brutally windy Wellington; the beautiful, catchy I Come Home To You. Lead single Arrow and the Aim is aggressively dark, its purposely messy production cut through with Reid's clear voice. It's fiery, powerful and moving. Reid says the album was greatly influenced by the extensive touring she's done over the past couple of years. "An artist must be uncomfortable," Reid says. " Often in times of exhaustion, confusion, and home-sickness, music has been the constant." It's clear it's helped hone her work, making her one of New Zealand's most distinctive, not to mention finest, young songwriters 

Jack Barlow

J Cole

4 Your Eyez Only

(Dreamville)

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★★★

Fourth studio album from the North Carolina rapper. 4 Your Eyez Only demonstrates Cole as a rapper with a distinctive and authentic tone. He comes across as down to earth and laid back, something he appears to embrace. Deja Vu is an almost peaceful hip-hop experience with stripped and laid back production. Cole very much follows in the vein of forefront rapper Kendrick Lamar with jazz influences heard throughout. The dreamy instrumentation on Change and Vile Mentality displays poignant messages on racial tensions in the United States. Largely produced by Cole himself, She's Mine P.1 shows he knows how to slow things down in a way that's not soppy and overtly sentimental. 4 Your Eyez may not come close to having the impact of Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly, but it displays a sound that's accessible and distinguishing. 

Hugh Collins

Aquaserge

Liasse ca etra

(Southbound)

★★★½

The French can be as creative with non-traditional forms of music as any other country.  On Lasse ca etra (loosely translated as let it be), French five piece ensemble Aquaserge recall the progressive experimentation of one of France's more distinctive groups since 1970's Gong.  Their sound is fuelled by a mixture of prog rock, funk (with horns a plenty on songs such as Tour de Monde and Tintin on est bien mon loulou) and Serge Gainsbourg-like pop lyricism.  The end result is wildly creative without really being anchored in any genre.

Mike Alexander

Tift Merritt

Stitch of the World

(Yep Rock/Southbound)

★★★★½ 

Tift Merritt is, to put it mildly, a bit of a hidden gem. With a consistently excellent output, it's a puzzle as to why she manages to slide under the radar: a mystery, indeed, that the excellent Stitch of the World only deepens. With a voice that's both gritty and sweet, the music on Merritt's Sam Beam-produced album is as sweeping and wide as the Texas plains she often alludes to. It's intelligent and thoughtful, with a wonderfully lush country sound. There are plenty of pretty, acoustic-driven numbers, although the album does have its rollicking moments. Opener Dirty Old Man kicks along with muddy guitars and pedal steel, while Proclamation Blues echoes early, electric Dylan - you'd almost swear it's Mike Bloomfield jangling away in the background. And yet it may be the slower, gentler songs that make the album. Heartache is an Uphill Climb is gorgeous, exploding into life after a hushed, piano-driven intro. My Boat lilts along with its gentle acoustic guitar and mandolin backing, and the title track is powered by a lovely, haunting slide guitar. There's nary a dud track on the album. Stitch of the World is nothing less than a wonderful release from a very fine songwriter.

Jack Barlow 

 - Sunday Star Times

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