Here’s a digest of the albums released in February 2018:
Tracey Thorn: Record
Tracey Thorn has been half (with husband Ben Watt) of bedsit/acoustic romantics turned electronic hitmakers Everything But the Girl. She has worked with Massive Attack and sported one of pop’s best haircut. Her fifth solo album returns to the style of EBTG’s subtly pumping anthems, but lyrically delivers what she calls “nine feminist bangers”. The singer-songwriter suggests that Record captures what she calls the “milestones of a woman’s life” – things that “are not always discussed in pop lyrics”.
The Breeders: All Nerve
Last heard from in 1993’s Last Splash, former member of The Pixies Kim Deal is now returning with her second major band The Breeders. The lineup that made Last Splash has reassembled, bassist Josephine Wiggs marking her return with an icy, perfectly enunciated vocal on MetaGoth, her voice at odds with the warm, husky intimacy of Kim and Kelley Deal’s harmonies.
For an album full of space and silence, it’s remarkably relentless and weighty – maybe not the stuff of arena-packing success after all, but formidable enough that.
Alexandra Burke: The Truth Is
She is the most statistically successful X Factor winners, in many ways, Alexandra Burke’s career has never really got off the ground. Her output has featured some unduly painful dance-pop) and mired in record label woe. While Burke’s voice remains both luscious and powerful, as soul-baring statements go, The Truth Is isn’t particularly profound stuff.
Vance Joy: Nation of Two
The Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy supplies the answer on an album of songs about relationships written, seemingly, from the perspective of someone who has learned about them from watching the romcoms Matthew McConaughey was starring in during his dark ages.
Belle and Sebastian: How to Solve Our Human Problems Parts 1-3
In 1997, when their star was firmly in the ascendant, the Glaswegian indie paragons released three beguiling EPs that were subsequently re-released as a box set. This time they’ve released three EPs since December, which are now cobbled together as an ill-fitting album.
Anna von Hausswolff: Dead Magic
A supernatural soprano has earned Von Hausswolff frequent (and not unjust) comparisons to Kate Bush. Dead Magic sees her shaking off those parallels, stretching from honeyed laments to hex-breaking wails and alien ululations that feel entirely her own.
Debussy: Préludes II; En Blanc et Noir
Maurizio Pollini almost 20 years to complete his survey of Debussy’s Préludes – his recording of the first book appeared in 1999. In that time, his recital appearances may have become more and more uneven, but the standard of his recordings has generally remained high, if, perhaps understandably, never quite recapturing the energy and brilliance of those made at the beginning of his career.
Wild Beasts: Last Night All My Dreams Came True
Last September, Leeds-based four-piece Wild Beasts announced their amicable split. Recorded last summer at RAK Studios in London and released the weekend of their farewell gig, this final album is the second on Domino’s live-in-the-studio Documents imprint (the first was Julia Holter’s In the Same Room).
Marlon Williams: Make Way for Love
Marlon Williams is an acclaimed country singer from Lyttelton, New Zealand, releasing his second album. While an old-timey, lovelorn sway still haunts Make Way for Love, “country” has never been the entire story.
Now, Make Way for Love finds Williams unleashing his inner crooner in the company of producer Noah Georgeson (Joanna Newsom). He brings to mind Roy Orbison or Richard Hawley, but then on songs such as Beautiful Dress and The Fire of Love Williams has a magnificent, fluttering, gender-fluid falsetto that recalls Anohni or Perfume Genius.
Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)
There’s a certain self-indulgence to Car Seat Headrest, but it’s necessary for singer and songwriter Toledo to scratch at the scabs of his life. Over the 13 minutes of Beach-Life- in-Death, he tries to unpick his confusion and bitterness and resentment, with swoops into devastating clarity: “I pretended I was drunk when I came out to my friends / I never came out to my friends / We were all on Skype / And I laughed and I changed the subject.” There are times when the less charitable might be inclined to shout at Toledo to pull himself together, but Car Seat Headrest increasingly feel like a significant band, and Toledo like an unusual and compelling voice.
Ezra Furman: Transangelic Exodus
Furman and his celestial lover go on the run from an oppressive government in an adrenaline-jolted, allegorically angry “queer outlaw saga”, a dark, fantastic road story reminiscent of David Lynch’s Wild at Heart or the classic comic Preacher. Furman’s songwriting is invigorated by a headlong rush of narrative, exploring episodic shifts of tone along the way.
Franz Ferdinand: Always Ascending
This evergreen Glasgow outfit have only tweaked their sound rather than rebooting it decisively, though, making their fifth album a restatement of their core art school pop principles.
Songs such as the title track, Always Ascending, remain wedded to a kind of uptight Caledonian funkiness that marks out Franz Ferdinand as one of the survivors of the 00s punk-funk renaissance. Singer Alex Kapranos’ wry voice is still front and centre, weighing up the merits of journalism (Lois Lane), the NHS (Huck and Jim) and the relief of finding kindred spirits (Finally) – mature topics, but delivered with a taut squelchiness honed by party person Philippe Zdar, one half of French electronic act Cassius.
Steve Reich: Pulse/Quartet
One of the great minimalists alongside Philip Glass and Terry Riley, Steve Reich remains heroically unafraid of the blank page. Pulse uses electric bass to nod to Giorgio Moroder via Daft Punk. Quartet (2013), is a lightly jazzy essay in key-confounding hypnosis on piano and vibraphone, written for and performed by Reich’s favourite percussionists, Colin Currie Group.
Kings of the South Seas: Franklin
The last time this oddball trio convened, in 2014, was to refit 19th-century whaling songs for modern times – hence their name. Here they do much the same for the ballads and broadsides that arose from attempts to forge a northwest passage through Arctic waters, notably Lord Franklin’s doomed expedition of 1845. The crazed mindset that undertook such a mission, and the hardships endured on icebound sailing ships, are evoked through contemporary songbooks (some printed onboard for entertainment) and the odd hymn.
The Kings are no conventional folk group, however. The booming baritone of Ben Nicholls (of the Seth Lakeman Band) is clearly “in the tradition”, but the space rock guitar of Richard Warren (ex-Spiritualized) and the jazzy shots of drummer Evan Jenkins (the Neil Cowley Trio) are not. The outcome, recorded in a Gravesend missionary church, is an album that shapeshifts from the solemnity of Reason’s Voyage to the shimmering dread of Song of Defeat and the gothic chill of The Reindeer and the Ox. A bleak but absorbing voyage through seafaring history.
Nils Frahm: All Melody
It all begins unexpectedly – with a wordless chorale “ooh”-ing prettily. For his seventh studio album, German post-classical composer Nils Frahm has expanded his previous core solo piano brief – a brief that was, admittedly, always highly individual.by