Graham Reid | | 2 min read
From time to time Elsewhere will single out a recent release we recommend on vinyl, like this which comes on coloured vinyl and in a cover painted by SJD himself. Very much a record of two sides also.
Check out Elsewhere's other Recommended Record picks . . .
Despite its name, The Mozart Fellowship offered by the University of Otago in Dunedin/Ōtepoti was established in 1969 to, among other things, foster an interest in contemporary music.
Previous recipients include the prolific, interdisciplinary composer and recording artist Jeremy Mayall, Chris Gendall (winner of the SOUNZ Contemporary Award in 2008) and composer/guitarist Dylan Lardelli, previously composer in residence with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.
The current Fellow is composer/producer Sean James Donnelly, known as SJD, who has released eight albums with guests such as singer-guitarist Paul McLaney, keyboard player Dominic Blaazer, singers Anna Coddington, Sandy Mill and Julia Deans, Phoenix Foundation drummer Chris O'Connor, string arranger Victoria Kelly, Neil Finn, classical violinist Miranda Adams and NZTrio cellist Ashley Browne.
SJD may not be a household name in Middle New Zealand. But his soundtracks to the sports documentary features Chasing Great and Born Racer, music for the television series The Almighty Johnsons and his song Beautiful Haze was heard in the television series 800 Words and a Monteith's advertisement.
He's also toured with Shayne P. Carter and Don McGlashan's bands, was in Neil and Sharon Finn's Pajama Club and has won two Aotearoa Music Awards (best producer with Angus McNaughton for his Southern Lights in 2005, best producer for Saint John Divine a decade later).
He was shortlisted for the APRA Silver Scroll songwriting award for Beautiful Haze from his entirely solo 2007 Songs From a Dictaphone album, and won the 2013 Taite Music Prize for Electric Wasteland.
He was music director of the 2016 APRA Silver Scroll Award event and his albums have frequently appeared in Elsewhere's best of the year lists.
All of which is to introduce someone who should need no introduction, but as Taite judge Gary Steel noted, "despite his position as probably the most critically acclaimed songwriter of his generation . . . many still seem indifferent to his luminescent art-pop.”
It's more than seven years since SJD's last album -- the Taite-nominated Saint John Divine which debuted at number four on the local artists' chart -- and his new Sweetheart reflects back to previous styles where he traversed, and blended, electronica and mainstream pop.
Again with a stellar cast – including McGlashan, Deans, the much under-rated Mill, O'Connor, Anika Moa, Tami Neilson and James (Lawrence Arabia) Milne -- SJD explores emotional isolation (“don't wanna be alone, there's got to be someone” on 0209), shimmering pop (the exotic My Exploding Head with Neilson delivering soulful vocals) and dreamy if slightly disturbing electro-pastoralism (A Walk in the Park With A Beautiful Friend).
The first half favours his electronica persona: the febrile blip'n'bop underpinning the increasingly widescreen I Just Can't Wait with Deans; the bouncy You Are the Movement andthe airy synth-based folk ballad Let Me Go Home.
However, later he bends toward downbeat folk-pop on the lovely A Pocketful of Change, heavenly Let Me Go Home, listless I Want You (given an elegant reprise) and the acoustic, casually lightlydelic The Midas Glove.
Sweetheart reaches wide -- not always successfully, Waterhole is a slight and swaying singalong, You Are the Movement never quite gets airborne -- but SJD's musically nuanced and sometimes lyrically opaque songs always reward close attention.
A long overdue album from a Mozart Fellow who needs no introduction.
Sweetheart is available digitally at bandcamp here, on CD and limited edition vinyl