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Album reviews from The Guardian Music

  • Kelsey Lu: Blood review – absorbing, astonishing debut album
    by Tara Joshi on 21st April 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Columbia)Intricate and sculptural, North Carolina singer-songwriter-producer Kelsey Lu deals in music where the unifying genre is, essentially, beauty. Having previously collaborated with the likes of Sampha, Solange and Florence Welch, the Los Angeles-based artist’s sublime debut album arrives, delving between everything from absorbing dream-pop, twangy blues, left-field electronics, serene ambient and even delicate classical (Lu is a trained cellist). Blood is meditative, surreal and deeply imaginative – be that in the lush, cryptic cover of 10cc’s I’m Not in Love, the rapturous gliding disco of Poor Fake, or the birdsong that intermingles with harp over Kindred parts one and two.Crafted with producers as far afield as Skrillex, Jamie xx and Rodaidh McDonald, the album ekes out a warm, naturalistic yet experimental space, all topped with her powerful, disarming voice that implores light in the darkness – “History taught us hope is the answer / yes it is”, she sings on the title track, as the record draws to a close. Lu seems intent to immerse us fully, deeply, intimately into her gossamer creative vision – and she succeeds. An astonishing first album. Continue reading... […]

  • Fat White Family: Serfs up! review – a giant leap forward
    by Phil Mongredien on 21st April 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Domino)A band always seemingly more interested in notoriety than grand musical statements, Fat White Family’s creative core appeared to have split in two after 2016’s controversy-craving (Goebbels! Shipman! Auschwitz!) but underwhelming Songs for Our Mothers, with guitarist Saul Adamczewski forming Insecure Men and frontman Lias Saoudi reappearing in Moonlandingz. So Serfs Up! represents a double surprise: first that it exists at all and second that it’s unrecognisably good.Whereas their past excursions into lo-fi art-rock were all too in thrall to Throbbing Gristle, there’s a hitherto unheard melodic nous to the likes of recent single Feet and I Believe in Something Better, the former a skyscraping epic meticulously and irresistibly built up layer by layer, the latter redolent of early-80s Sheffield synthpop. Elsewhere, they boldly meld genres: Fringe Runner is White Lines engulfed in drones; Tastes Good With the Money segues from Gregorian chanting to T Rex glam-boogie, complete with Baxter Dury matter-of-factly warning of “a mushroom cloud for the middle classes”. Not everything comes off, however. Kim’s Sunsets, despite its provocative angle – empathy for Kim Jong-un, having all that firepower but doomed to never get to use it – fails to transcend its anaesthetised reggae backing. That aside, Serfs Up! feels like a giant leap forward. Continue reading... […]

  • Herlin Riley: Perpetual Optimism review – good-natured ease, brilliantly done
    by Dave Gelly on 21st April 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Mack Avenue)When Herlin Riley came to Britain with Wynton Marsalis’s band some years ago, his serene smile behind the drums radiated what Ira Gershwin might have called his sunny disposish. This album does the same. It has the kind of good-natured ease that could seem casual if it weren’t so brilliantly done. The tunes are lucid, the rhythms catchy, and the bright ideas keep on coming. Riley’s band are the young quintet who made their debut album, New Direction, in 2016.The basic sound is quite distinctive, particularly the blend of trumpet (Bruce Harris) and alto saxophone (Godwin Louis), each with his own felicitous solo style. Five of the 10 pieces are Riley compositions, and the title track sums up the attractions of the whole set. You can tell by the clipped phrasing that this is the work of a drummer, and there are some tricky little turns to keep us on our toes, but it’s so rhythmically elegant – as befits a New Orleans-born percussionist. Other numbers range from the sparsely voiced, almost abstract Touched to a joyously unbuttoned excursion into the old Willie Dixon favourite Wang Dang Doodle. Continue reading... […]

  • Loyle Carner: Not Waving, But Drowning review – defiantly old-school
    by Kitty Empire on 21st April 2019 at 7:00 am

    (AMF)It’s possible Loyle Carner is trolling contemporary hip-hop. For his second album, the 24-year-old’s flow remains defiantly old-school, concerned with language and jazzy storytelling rather than the Autotuned postures that get the streams.Carner’s food obsession has gone full bougie too, with tracks called Ottolenghi and Carluccio. The former, though, only uses the chef’s Jerusalem cookbook as a jumping-off point, and Carluccio only mentions the restaurateur’s death as a way of fixing a memory in time: red herrings both, on an album about relationships. Continue reading... […]

  • Lizzo: Cuz I Love You review – on the bright side of history
    by Kitty Empire on 20th April 2019 at 1:00 pm

    (Nice Life/Atlantic)Colourful, positive and shamelessly retro, US singer and rapper Melissa Jefferson’s third album is the biggest, most focused set of her career thus farLizzo is a dab hand at getting people’s attention. Her third album, Cuz I Love You, opens with a holler that instantly pushes all the dials far into the red. “I’m crying…. cuz I love you!” she bellows, a cappella, on the title track before the band tumble in. On anyone else’s set, this dazzling outburst might be held back – the peak posture of the album’s most climactic tune.For Lizzo, it’s just the opening gambit of a record that is unapologetically loud, bold and full-on, simultaneously old-fashioned (soul, doo-wop and romance figure) but immensely fresh in the bargain. Such saturated levels of volume and colour land as downright audacious when so much contemporary music, let alone hip-hop, currently comes in greige, narcotised hues. Or as Lizzo puts it mischievously on Tempo, her banging collaboration with obvious forebear Missy Elliott: “Slow songs, they for skinny hoes… I’m a thick bitch, I need tempo.” Continue reading... […]

  • 03 Greedo: Still Summer in the Projects – inside man's breakout moment?
    by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 19th April 2019 at 9:30 am

    (Alamo/Interscope/10 Summers)Following a string of short prison sentences in his 20s, for drugs, firearms and burglary, in May 2018 Los Angeles rapper 03 Greedo broke his last straw: he was sentenced to 20 years after methamphetamine and stolen pistols were found in his car. This poignant, irrepressible album is his first release since being inside, and his idiosyncrasies ensure that his career should sustain at least until his parole comes up in 2020. Continue reading... […]

  • Kelsey Lu: Blood review – inventive, crystalline debut of a pop auteur
    by Ammar Kalia on 19th April 2019 at 9:00 am

    (Columbia)A softness permeates the music of classically trained cellist and songwriter Kelsey Lu. Not the softness of background muzak or meditative introspection, but a concentrated, purposeful mood – one teased out by billowing melodies, bowed beneath her crystalline vocals.After dropping out of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and moving to New York to record her one-take debut EP, Church, in 2016, there has been a buzz of anticipation surrounding Lu’s compositions. Where Church seemed to absorb its ecclesiastical surroundings in the eerie, incantatory feel of her solo playing – looped to surround her vocals – the arrival of her debut LP marks Lu out as a formidable singer and songwriter, as much as a composer. Continue reading... […]

  • Loyle Carner: Not Waving, But Drowning review – heartfelt hip-hop
    by Rachel Aroesti on 19th April 2019 at 8:30 am

    AMF RecordsLoyle Carner’s second album opens with a love letter. Titled Dear Jean, it’s addressed to the musician’s mother, reassuring her over tinkling piano and the gentle tapping together of drumsticks that, despite his decision to move out of the family home and in with his girlfriend, he is not abandoning her. It is, like the majority of the south Londoner’s output, utterly heartfelt and startlingly intimate – delivering his lyrics in a wistful mutter, the 24-year-old sounds moved to the point of tears by the tenderness of his own relationships.Carner, whose real name is Benjamin Coyle-Larner, is cut from a different cloth to most rappers. Not because he’s a dyed-in-the-wool mummy’s boy – maternal affection is a well-established trope of the genre – but because he extends this mawkishness to the rest of the world. When he’s not waxing lyrical about his girlfriend’s loveliness, Carner is earnestly mourning a longstanding friendship (Krispy), or a recently deceased celebrity chef (Antonio Carluccio). The Stevie Smith poem this album is named after is about a man whose jovial character masks inner turbulence, yet its relevance is never clarified: Carner is an artist who seems quite happy to wear his heart on his sleeve. His 2017 debut, Yesterday’s Gone, included a track in which he fantasised about caring for a fictional little sister, and both albums feature his mother reading out self-penned poems about how special her son is – a gesture that would cause most people to break out in a cold sweat were it directed at them, and with good reason: the device feels both cloying and slightly smug. Continue reading... […]

  • Jade Bird: Jade Bird review – edgy, unsparing Americana
    by Michael Hann on 19th April 2019 at 8:00 am

    (Glassnote Records)Jade Bird talks a good fight: she writes her own songs; doesn’t want other people telling her how she feels; made her first recordings in the Catskills with Simone Felice. She’s got some people very excited – one US industry commentator reckoned last year: “If this were the late 80s, Jade Bird would already be a star.” That’s perhaps a decade out: her debut album is MOR-Americana-with-edges of the kind that Sheryl Crow and Meredith Brooks were having hits with in the 90s.Bird is unsparing about disappointing relationships (Uh Huh, Love Has All Been Done Before, Going Gone), and sometimes the plainness of the language imparts an unexpected force: in Good at It?, the “it” is the it of the eternal teenage urge – “Have you done it yet?” – and the angry baldness of the question hits home. Other times, though, the hominess of the phrasing undercuts the slyness of the song. Going Gone takes an unusual subject – the role of the girlfriend in propping up a feckless boyfriend – but “I hate to inform you’re still living in your mother’s house” sounds like the retort you blurt out before the killer line comes to mind. Continue reading... […]

  • Angélique Kidjo: Celia review – magnificent African reinvention of salsa | Robin Denselow's world album of the month
    by Robin Denselow on 19th April 2019 at 7:30 am

    (Verve Records)Kidjo’s album takes the songs of Celia Cruz and adds Afrobeat and other influences with stars including Tony Allen and Meshell Ndegeocello Angélique Kidjo is on a roll. For years, she has been an entertaining, reliable fixture on the world-music scene, a powerful singer famed for mixing African material, including songs by her heroine Miriam Makeba, with old favourites by anyone from Bob Marley to Sam Cooke. But it’s her most recent albums that have demonstrated the scope of her ambition. First came her original reinterpretation of Talking Heads’ 1980 album Remain in Light, in which she advanced the African influences in their music. Now she applies the same technique to the songs of Celia Cruz, the queen of salsa. This is not just an album of covers but an inventive reinterpretation. Continue reading... […]

  • Bananarama: In Stereo review – pop duo shimmy into the modern age
    by Dave Simpson on 19th April 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Absolute)‘It’s been a long time,” announce Bananarama at the start of their first album in 10 years, which declares its arrival with a banger. Originally recorded by former Sugababes Mutya Keisha Siobhan but never officially released, the Richard X-produced Love in Stereo is a dancefloor whopper: Giorgio Moroder-type electro pulses combine with a belter of a chorus and several audible cries of: “Woo!” Related: ‘People wet their knickers when they find out I was in Bananarama’: the 80s trio return Continue reading... […]

  • Schumann: The Symphonies review – bombast and revelation | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
    by Andrew Clements on 18th April 2019 at 2:00 pm

    (Sony Classical, two CDs)Staatskapelle Dresden/ThielemannThe Staatskapelle’s sumptuous playing is hard to fault, but conductor Thielemann is too overblown at timesChristian Thielemann has recorded the Schumann symphonies before, with the Philharmonia for Deutsche Grammophon, two decades ago. But this new set comes from concerts that Thielemann and the Dresden Staatskapelle gave on tour in Suntory Hall in Tokyo last autumn, released now to mark Thielemann’s 60th birthday this month. Continue reading... […]

  • Lizzo: Cuz I Love You review – body-positive pop with its foot on the gas
    by Alexis Petridis on 18th April 2019 at 11:00 am

    (Nice Life/Atlantic)Lizzo’s exhausting third album ramps up the drama to 11 with dense arrangements, squealing guitars and climactic vocalsThere are albums that slowly, subtly unfold before the listener’s ears, only gradually revealing their full breadth and depth over time. And then there are albums that pretty much start as they mean to go on, a category into which you can firmly place Lizzo’s major-label debut. The first thing the listener hears on Cuz I Love You is the singer/rapper’s voice delivering the title in full-tilt testifying mode, an impassioned, gasping, raw-throated wail. It feels as if it should be emanating from a vocalist who has dropped to their knees with their head thrown back and their hands clenched into fists, the better to highlight that this is the absolute climax of their performance. It’s followed by a crashing orchestral sweep that’s equal parts grandiose 60s soul ballad and Count Dracula on the pipe organ. Much as it sounds like the music you hear immediately before the curtain falls, it turns out merely to be the prelude: the whole song proceeds along much the same lines, a pastiche of old-fashioned southern soul at its most intense, decorated with melodramatic pauses and widdly-woo guitars and a vocal that declares its love in a manner so frenzied, you feel slightly fearful for the object of her affections.It sets the tone for the entire album, which shifts very deftly in style from synthy early 80s post-disco pop on Juice, to the Prince-ly funk rock of Cry Baby to the distorted blues influence that runs through Heaven Help Me, but seems to have been recorded with everything turned up to 11. The arrangements are dense, the choruses invariably come bolstered either by a choir or voices multi-tracked until they sound like a choir; the guitars squeal and Lizzo’s vocals proceed at a bug-eyed level of intensity. Related: Body-positive rapper Lizzo: 'My job is to emote and communicate and bop' Continue reading... […]

  • The Chemical Brothers: No Geography review – rewinding the 90s
    by Kitty Empire on 14th April 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Virgin EMI)The conceit of this ninth Chemical Brothers album is a tantalising one: dusting down the kit used on their first two acclaimed albums, Exit Planet Dust (1995) and Dig Your Own Hole (1997). Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons have not just endured but prospered since their heyday by redeploying a familiar bag of signifiers – muscular beats, upfront vocals – to reliable effect.The sequel to 2015’s late-life flowering, Born in the Echoes, does supply a steady stream of knee-jerk fare. Free Yourself is one effective, but super-obvious, paean to dancing, whose video finds AI robots throwing a warehouse rave. But some of No Geography rewinds the 90s more exactingly. Continue reading... […]

  • Stubbleman: Mountains and Plains review – a low-key charmer
    by Neil Spencer on 14th April 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Crammed Discs)Pascal Gabriel’s CV is one impressive document. Starting with Belgian punks the Razors, he moved to London in the late 1970s, became a recording engineer, created chart-toppers with S’Express and Bomb the Bass in the late 80s, and has since written and produced for a legion of pop acts, Kylie Minogue and Ladyhawke among them. Gabriel’s latest project, as Stubbleman, is a step sideways into ambient territory – quite literally, since Mountains and Plains was inspired by a coast-to-coast road trip across the United States.The album reflects Gabriel’s innovatory skills with electronica, though his principal instrument is a ghostly piano, over which are layered synths, guitars, glockenspiel and the toys of the sound alchemist’s art. It’s a beautifully crafted work that fits Eno’s definition of ambient being “as ignorable as it is interesting”, at times as minimalist as Steve Reich (such as Badlands Train, a slog across the Texas plain), at others unsettling in its evocation of “purposeless highways and terminally closed diners”, or meditative in its portraitof Taos Twilight. A low-key charmer destined, one suspects, for a long life. Continue reading... […]

  • Labrinth, Sia and Diplo Present… LSD review – streaming supergroup underwhelm
    by Peter Robinson on 14th April 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Syco)It works on paper. Combine three star musicians whose names make for an eye-catching acronym and whose varied talents seem to have kept half the charts afloat for the last decade, throw in some psychedelic imagery, then watch those streams roll in. There are moments when this streaming era supergroup hit the mark, as in the doo-wop laced Thunderclouds and glitchily absorbing Angel in Your Eyes. Widescreen pop moment Genius, which kicked off the LSD project last May, still packs a big punch, though perhaps not to such an extent that it warrants two inclusions, one in the form of a perfunctory Lil Wayne remix, on a slim volume of whose 10 tracks seven have already been released.Elsewhere LSD underwhelms, even if you accept that three of the world’s most interesting musicians would always struggle to create something greater than the sum of its parts. It would be unkind to think of this as a total vanity project – it’s clearly intended to sell. Mind you, at least vanity projects generally carry a sense of artists finding space to spread their creative wings. Not an entirely bad trip, but not one its makers should be in any hurry to repeat. Continue reading... […]

  • Anderson .Paak: Ventura review – sweet and loose
    by Kitty Empire on 14th April 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Aftermath) Related: Anderson .Paak: ‘People are like, ‘How are you not on crack cocaine?’ Anderson .Paak’s second album in six months treks further up the California coast in its title (Venice, Malibu, Oxnard…) with the rapper-funkateer secure in the knowledge that versatility has earned him a Grammy (for the Oxnard-era Bubblin’). Continue reading... […]

  • Home listening: Rachmaninov big and small, and a night in with Janet Baker
    by Fiona Maddocks on 14th April 2019 at 6:00 am

    The LPO and Vladimir Jurowski do Rachmaninov’s first symphony proud; Boris Giltburg excels in the 24 Preludes. Plus, John Bridcut’s magical new film• Once you’ve seen The Isle of the Dead, the painting by the Swiss symbolist artist Arnold Böcklin which inspired Rachmaninov’s work of that name, image and sound are impossible to separate: hooded cypresses, rocky outcrops, clouded sky, lonely boatman; slow rhythms, dark textures, mournful woodwind, a musical reference to the Dies irae from the mass for the dead. In an own-label disc conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, the London Philharmonic Orchestra has paired The Isle of the Dead (1909) with Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 1, a more youthful work which had a famously catastrophic first performance in 1897, in part due to inadequate rehearsal time. Despite his subsequent psychological crisis, Rachmaninov did not destroy the score, and eventually admitted it had some value – fortunately for us. It’s a soaring, big-boned work, overflowing with melody and characteristic Rachmaninov melancholy. If only the composer had lived to see how a partnership like Jurowski and the LPO, superbly prepared, can make this work blaze and sing. Continue reading... […]

  • Norah Jones: Begin Again review – confident off-the-cuff collection
    by Laura Snapes on 12th April 2019 at 9:30 am

    (Blue Note)Seven tracks made last year in impromptu recordings with the likes of Jeff Tweedy and Thomas Bartlett shows Jones is an artist at her ease Releasing the 26th bestselling US album of all time as your debut buys you the right to do whatever you want for the rest of your career – although Norah Jones’ early association with dinner-party jazz may have deterred some from paying attention. More fool them: her smouldering 2012 album Little Broken Hearts is a fantastic heartbreak record (produced by Danger Mouse) and even Day Breaks (2016), a return to the soft seductions of 2002’s Come Away With Me, works its magic. Continue reading... […]

  • Emma Bunton: My Happy Place review – smily Spice sticks to the inoffensive
    by Aimee Cliff on 12th April 2019 at 9:00 am

    (BMG Rights Management)In the early noughties, when each of the Spice Girls began releasing their respective solo projects, Emma Bunton was the surprise star. She released three solidly received albums, with a clutch of Top 20 singles. And she did it by serving up very few surprises: starting with her collaboration with production duo Tin Tin Out on What I Am in 1999, she largely stuck to adult contemporary, neo-soul ballads that your mum could get into, before moving into kitschy 1960s-style pop. Continue reading... […]

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