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Album reviews from The Guardian Music

  • Big Thief: Two Hands review
    by Aimee Cliff on 11th October 2019 at 9:30 am

    (4AD)This ‘earth twin’ album to their ‘celestial twin’ UFOF, released in May, foregrounds Adrianne Lenker’s arresting voice and tender/brutal lyrics ‘We found his body / Naked and bare” is the visceral couplet that drags the listener, two-handed, into the new album from Big Thief. Songwriter Adrianne Lenker is known for her tender and brutal images, and this record contains some of her finest work yet.Grunge-folk New Yorkers Big Thief are on a rapid ascent – this is already their second album of the year – and they only seem to get better with each release. They call UFOF, the album released in May, the “celestial twin”, with its spaced-out distortion and otherworldly imagery. On Two Hands, “the earth twin”, they run their fingers through the dirt. These songs were recorded in the desert, and have a sparse, guttural urgency that clings like uncomfortable 100F heat. Continue reading...

  • Babymetal: Metal Galaxy review
    by Dean Van Nguyen on 11th October 2019 at 9:00 am

    (Babymetal Records)The band’s third, and possibly best, album combines their familiar sugary pop melodies mashed with thrashing metalBefore there was kawaii metal there was just kawaii, a strand of distinctly Japanese popular culture that revels in all things cute and lovable, and is perhaps best exemplified by the eternally popular Hello Kitty franchise. Continue reading...

  • Kim Gordon: No Home Record review
    by Laura Snapes on 11th October 2019 at 8:30 am

    (Matador)Gordon’s first solo album sees her skewer everything from harassment to fameIn today’s politicised cultural landscape, albums about The State of Things aren’t exactly in short supply. But few address these calamitous times with as much wit and menace as Kim Gordon on her debut solo record. You could say she has an unfair advantage – her charred voice is instantly recognisable, conveying such a natural sense of absurdity and contempt that it could make a harvest festival reading sound like an indictment of the entire agricultural complex. Though that would underestimate the skill and potency of her writing: when she seethes “Airbnb, come set me free!” on a song named after the company, her poisonous yet euphoric gasp indicates the toxic convenience of the sharing economy. That it’s one of the year’s best rock songs, gasping and visceral, girds its dark appeal. Continue reading...

  • Richard Dawson: 2020 review
    by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 11th October 2019 at 8:00 am

    (Domino)Dawson adds pop-facing elements to folk on this brilliant album, full of stories of a benighted BritainNext month, Ken Loach releases his new film, Sorry We Missed You, about a Newcastle father with a zero-hours delivery job that turns him into a kind of automaton. It has the ideal companion piece in Fulfilment Centre, a relentless song from Newcastle singer-songwriter Richard Dawson, told from the perspective of a – distinctly Amazonian – warehouse worker slogging themselves to death as they pick out dash-cams and shaving foam. In fact, each of the songs here are Palme d’Or-worthy Loachian masterpieces, full of quiet tenacity on an island slowly turning sour. Continue reading...

  • Alice Zawadzki: Within You Is a World of Spring review | John Lewis's contemporary album of the month
    by John Lewis on 11th October 2019 at 7:30 am

    (Whirlwind Records)The Anglo-Polish vocalist goes way beyond jazz on her second solo album, for a hymn to nature that masters all manner of stylesAlice Zawadzki is an Anglo-Polish vocalist, violinist, pianist and composer who studied composition and has since worked across a vast array of styles – film soundtracks, music theatre and assorted varieties of European folk music. She’s probably best known for her collaborations with assorted British jazz musicians – including a 2016 album of duets with pianist Dan Whieldon – but her second solo album is an excursion way beyond jazz into a kind of ECM-ish art song, with each track so different from the last that it sounds like a compilation. The album’s closer, O Mio Amore, recalls like a Schubert lied; Keeper sounds like a Stevie Wonder ballad (complete with Zawadzki multi-tracking her own gospel choir); on Es Verdad (It Is True) she sings in Spanish while playing Celtic reels on the fiddle. What unites this disparate collection is that Zawadzki serves, throughout, as the awestruck narrator of an extended hymn to nature. In The Woods, her magical realist poetry is accompanied by the haunting sound of a Korean taegŭm flute, while the title track is a lengthy meditation on the joys of spring (“that soulful chaotic season”), where her angular string phrases shine through the dense arrangements like patches of sunlight in a forest. Continue reading...

  • Morton Feldman: Piano review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
    by Andrew Clements on 10th October 2019 at 2:00 pm

    Philip Thomas (Another Timbre, five CDs)Thomas’s authoritative playing shows why Feldman’s keyboard music is some of the most important of the last centuryMorton Feldman wrote for the piano for most of his composing career, and the 46 pieces included in Philip Thomas’s collection – the most extensive survey of this music to date, including several works recorded for the first time – provide a thread through its changing emphases and stylistic shifts. The earliest here is an untitled piece from 1942, just one minute long and composed when Feldman was 16; the latest is Palais de Mari from 1986, the year before his death. Continue reading...

  • Elbow: Giants of All Sizes review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week
    by Alexis Petridis on 10th October 2019 at 11:00 am

    (Polydor)It’s a dislocated Elbow that you get on this proggy, restless record – but their sense of empathy is still strongHalfway through the eighth Elbow album comes a lyric that’s almost impossible not to home in on. “Who am I?” sings Guy Garvey on White Noise White Heat, a song that recounts the singer’s despairing reaction to the “unspeakable crime” of the Grenfell Tower fire. “Some blarney Mantovani with a lullaby when the sky’s falling in.”It sounds like a snarky critic’s dissection of the music that propelled Elbow to mainstream fame. Ever since their 2008 single One Day Like This became not just a hit, but an omnipresent part of British life – there was a lengthy period when no sporting achievement or victory in a TV talent show was allowed to be televised without it blaring buoyantly on the soundtrack – Elbow have enjoyed a decade as Britain’s leading purveyors of ballad-paced, bruised-but-warm northern optimism. In fairness, that’s rather a reductive view of their subsequent output, but equally, no Elbow album since has been allowed to pass without at least one song that fitted the bill: string-laden, stately paced, its central message essentially “come ’ere, you daft bugger, give us a hug”. Continue reading...

  • John Coltrane Quartet: Blue World review – fascinating lost sessions
    by Dave Gelly on 6th October 2019 at 4:30 am

    (Impulse)Yet another entry in the growing catalogue of lost-and-found recording sessions, this dates from 1964 and was made for a French-Canadian film, Le chat dans le sac. Some of it was used on the soundtrack, but this is the whole thing and it’s fascinating. Coltrane and his classic quartet were then in the midst of their most creatively demanding year and everything they recorded was new. The film director, though, had asked for numbers he was familiar with and Coltrane was happy to oblige.The result is a brief but serious retrospective treatment of five pieces, going back as far as 1958. There are two versions of Naima and three of Village Blues, but they’re all different, and every performance is complete, no odds and ends. The piece called Blue World here is an improvisation on the song Out of This World, which Coltrane had recorded in 1962, and for sheer intensity this version comes close to surpassing even that. As for the sound quality, it was recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio, by the man himself, in mono, which has been delicately tweaked and runs for 37 minutes. Continue reading...

  • Angel Olsen: All Mirrors review – a little lost in the operatic mix
    by Kitty Empire on 6th October 2019 at 4:30 am

    (Jagjaguwar)Reverb and its vocal cousin, vibrato, are aural forms of witchcraft, imparting both haunt and gravitas to the songs they touch. Angel Olsen, once of Chicago, now of North Carolina, has long had a grain silo of a voice, pre-loaded with its own digital effects. On her fourth album she ramps up the drama, adding yet more reverb and throwing in lush orchestral arrangements.In the wings, a stripped-down demo version of the same album awaits release. For now, it’s all feathers, catgut and gale-force nine winds, with Olsen singing of heartbreak, image-projection and even selfhood itself. Whose version of you is correct, she asks, in various ways. String sections are often the last refuge of the indie rock scoundrel seeking heft for thin songs. But here, on tunes like New Love Cassette or What It Is, the scything strings undercut the melodies with a purpose. Continue reading...

  • Danny Brown: uknowhatimsayin¿ review – maverick rapper comes of age
    by Damien Morris on 6th October 2019 at 4:30 am

    (Warp)Nearing 40, pathologically indiscreet, drug-guzzling Detroit rapper Danny Brown has grown up and started taking his career seriously. Sensible haircut, straightened teeth and his own chat show, albeit one on which A$AP Rocky fondly recalls Brown slipping him his first Viagra. Rap legend Q-Tip does some heavy beatlifting alongside Brown’s creative collaborator Paul White, and the results are sensational. Where Brown’s ebullience and spiky flow conjure the claustrophobic intensity of a party at its peak, Tip brings space and melody to sugar the rapper’s nasal squawks.What makes Brown so cherishable is that he clearly loves rap’s golden age and kings like Outkast and Wu-Tang without standing in thrall to them. Theme Song nods to Cypress Hill, but the music is much more wraithlike than thuggish, even when the words quote Mike Tyson at his most brutal. Belly of the Beast sounds like an André 3000 interior monologue on a planet slipping out of orbit, with its cinematic sound effects and wobbly progress. Brown’s storytelling is as witty as ever, with pungent bars that pop like pimples, spattering tracks with quotable filth. His best work by a distance. Continue reading...

  • Rachid Taha: Je Suis Africain review – a rollicking posthumous release
    by Kitty Empire on 6th October 2019 at 4:30 am

    (Naïve/Believe)Recorded before his death in 2018, the 16th and final solo album of Rachid Taha cannot escape the shadow of his loss. Born in Algeria, raised in France, but a citizen of rock’n’roll, Taha pogoed over boundaries, torching genres as he went. It’s fitting that the last album from a key player in Damon Albarn’s early Africa Express lineups should incorporate pan-African zeal.Late-comers to Taha’s polyglot punk chanson will find it thoroughly accessible, however. As ever, you can hear his symbiotic relationship with the Clash from moment one: Ansit opens with a rolling swagger that never lets up, even as Taha filches instrumentation from radically different traditions and throws them into a panoply of styles. Continue reading...

  • Wilco: Ode to Joy review – yet another winning set
    by Phil Mongredien on 6th October 2019 at 4:30 am

    (dBpm)Since Wilco’s last album, 2016’s Schmilco, frontman Jeff Tweedy has been busy, releasing three solo albums (including one, Warmer, just three months ago) and writing an autobiography. Yet his creative well is far from dry. While the downbeat folk stylings that dominate here mean the exuberant pop sensibilities of 1999’s Summerteeth, and the envelope-pushing that defined his band’s 00s output, and earned their (unwanted) reputation as “the American Radiohead” seem a distant memory, Ode to Joy is still rich in ideas.On the more austere tracks that start the album, Glenn Kotche’s drums are starkly foregrounded, sounding a military beat that deliberately evokes marching – a nod, Tweedy has suggested, to the authoritarian direction US politics has taken. The effect often seems at odds with the sparse instrumentation – primarily acoustic guitar – that only just fleshes out his gentle songs. But the further into Ode to Joy you get, the prettier the songs, the more generous the backing and the lighter the mood. There’s a real playfulness to Everyone Hides, while Love Is Everywhere (Beware) and Hold Me Anyway are irresistibly upbeat. Continue reading...

  • Home listening: Haydn string quartets galore
    by Stephen Pritchard on 6th October 2019 at 4:30 am

    Contrasting sets from Amsterdam’s Dudok Quartet and the London Haydn Quartet prove illuminating. And Inside Music with Lucy Crowe• Some 21 years separate the composition of two sets of Haydn string quartets recently released on separate labels, offering an opportunity to explore how the composer took the genre from private salon performance to concert hall status.The exciting, Amsterdam-based Dudok Quartet choose three quartets from his 1772 set, Op 20: 2, 3, 5 (Resonus). Always alert to Haydn’s myriad caprices, they introduce some perfectly placed, sinuous phrasing in the third movement of No 3 in G minor, and real verve and colour in its brilliant allegretto. Continue reading...

  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen review – a heavenly haunting
    by Kitty Empire on 5th October 2019 at 1:00 pm

    (Ghosteen Ltd)In the first album wholly written since the death of his son, Cave reaches an extraordinary, sad and beautiful artistic evolutionWhat is the worst that can happen? And what happens after the worst does? Nick Cave, leader of the Bad Seeds, his band of over 30 years, has had to endure the triple bind of unimaginable tragedy, processing grief as a public figure and – more recently – the task of metabolising that suffering into some kind of continued artistic existence. Had Cave gone to ground indefinitely after the death of his teenage son Arthur in 2015, everyone would have understood.Instead, he released an album in 2016, Skeleton Tree – a work digested by fans in the shadow of the event, but largely written before it – and an accompanying documentary, the visually lyrical One More Time With Feeling, which dealt with the aftermath of Arthur’s passing.Listening to these songs requires a ready supply of absorbent materials and perhaps a metaphysician on call Continue reading...

  • The Sherlocks: Under Your Sky review
    by Dave Simpson on 4th October 2019 at 9:30 am

    (Infectious/BMG) The band’s second album, with producer James Skelly, leaps from their previous elementary indie into effervescent rock songs to be sung out loudMirroring Catfish and the Bottlemen’s emergence from Llandudno, young indie foursome the Sherlocks blazed out of deprived Bolton upon Dearne in South Yorkshire in 2017 and landed in the Top 10. Titling their debut Live for the Moment seemed to confirm that their spirited but elementary indie rock didn’t bode too well for longevity. However, their second album makes a surprising quantum leap. Producer James Skelly – the Coral’s melodic alchemist – has helmed a much more mature, effervescent rock sound closer to the Killers or Manchester’s James (who are tellingly name-checked). Continue reading...

  • Chromatics: Closer to Grey review – darkly glamorous pop outsmarts imitators
    by Laura Snapes on 4th October 2019 at 9:00 am

    (Italians Do It Better)Smart production, corrupted sounds and existential dread set Kill for Love’s successor apart from schlockier 80s pop reincarnationsChromatics are among the decade’s defining musical architects – or at least its refitters, given their darkly glamorous update on 80s pop’s jewel tones and gothic inclinations. While they didn’t hit the commercial peaks of the bands they influenced with their spots on the Drive OST and 2012’s Kill for Love, their elusiveness sustained the intrigue: follow-up Dear Tommy was due in 2014 but remains unreleased.In its place is surprise album Closer to Grey. Chromatics’ influence means there’s a sense in which its haunted suburban chilliness sounds old hat. But the production is smarter than that sound’s schlockier Stranger Things reincarnation. You’re No Good bears the sleek aerodynamism of Behaviour-era Pet Shop Boys, and the surfaces are corrupted: blown-out bass (Twist the Knife) and overdriven guitar (Touch Red) indicate the dread at the album’s heart. Continue reading...

  • Wilco: Ode to Joy review
    by Michael Hann on 4th October 2019 at 8:30 am

    (dBpm Records)Stripped back it may be, but Wilco’s 11th album combines expressive lyrics about change with big singalong chorusesWilco’s 11th studio album, apparently, is Jeff Tweedy confronting rockism (the belief that rock is the natural state of music. In short: the celebration of all things guitary and “authentic” over music that is shiny and instant). “Rockism is not intellectually an honest place to be, so this is more just a personal observation of what I don’t want to do,” he has said. Hence the abrupt step change here: bright shiny synths replace guitars, three songs are written by Charli XCX, and the songs are structured around huge singalong choruses, with Tweedy’s voice Auto-Tuned to within an inch of its life. Continue reading...

  • Danny Brown: Uknowhatimsayin¿ review
    by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 4th October 2019 at 8:00 am

    (Warp)He may look less of a mess, but Brown is still full of sap, celebrating sexual escapades in comic, crowd-pleasing styleDanny Brown’s teeth once looked like a cursed mountain range, his hair getting up from his scalp as if it had somewhere to suddenly be. Both are now smartened up for his first new music in three years, to the point where you might buy a car or sofa from him, but the tracks themselves thankfully still give off a malodorous stank.The Detroit rapper has cultivated, in terms of pure sonics, one of the greatest ever voices in hip-hop: his larynx seems to have its own personality disorder, one minute a gruff sage, the next a raunchy yowling tomcat. The opening track, Change Up, is in the former mode: Brown, with the “mind of a master, blood of a slave”, laments a world where “stand-up niggas take shots to the knees”. But soon enough, his sap rises, eyes glint, and by track three he’s doing “the humpty hump in a Burger King bathroom”. Continue reading...

  • Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band: Obiaa! review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
    by Ammar Kalia on 4th October 2019 at 7:30 am

    (Strut Records) The ‘golden voice of Africa’ reboots the Ghanaian form for a new, globalised fanbase Ghanaian highlife music has never been a single statement of artistic intent. Birthed from the indigenous rhythms of Akan music and incorporating western instrumentation such as electric guitars and horns before being played in the 1920s at exclusive gatherings of the upper colonial class – hence the music’s name – to now fusing American rap motifs in the sub-genre hiplife, Ghana’s most popular musical export is ever-changing. Yet, one of its greatest living exponents, vocalist Pat Thomas, has also been one of its most consistent representatives. Continue reading...

  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen review – his most beautiful songs
    by Alexis Petridis on 4th October 2019 at 1:00 am

    (Ghosteen Ltd)Cave’s voice is richer than ever on this stunning double album that sets desperation against empathy and faithNick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ 18th album was casually announced, a week before its release, in answer to an online query from a fan on Cave’s Red Hand Files website. That says a lot about how Nick Cave has transformed himself over the last 12 months. Previously an entertaining but guarded interviewee, he has, more or less, thrown himself open to the public. His website began with Cave posting the words “You can ask me anything” online. He’s subsequently answered dozens of fans’ questions, from the trivial to the metaphysical, eloquently and at length.His most recent tour was effectively its live incarnation, based around an audience Q&A, conducted without a moderator. Anyone who has attended an artist Q&A where a particularly banzai fan has ended up in possession of the microphone knows what a bold high-wire act that is. The accidental death of his son Arthur in 2015, he said, has led him to “see people in a different way”, giving him “a deep feeling toward other people and an absolute understanding of their suffering”. Continue reading...

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