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Album reviews from The Guardian Music

  • Home listening: a Thomas Arne world premiere and more
    by Stephen Pritchard on 16th June 2019 at 7:00 am

    Top soloists bring Thomas Arne’s The Judgment of Paris to life; plus, an evening with the outstanding Schumann Quartet• The fire that ravaged the first Covent Garden theatre in 1808 destroyed more than an auditorium; it claimed much of Britain’s 18th-century musical heritage, including a pipe organ Handel had played, and many full scores. Thomas Arne’s opera Artaxerxes and his masque of 1742, The Judgment of Paris, were victims of the flames, but fortunately parts of the masque had been published, and Congreve’s text still existed, so in the 1970s editor Ian Spink was able to rebuild its recitatives and choruses. Now, 40 years later, this charming piece is available in a world premiere recording from the Dutton label that features a first-rate lineup of soloists.Tenor Ed Lyon sings Paris, the shepherd charged with the decidedly un-PC task of choosing which goddess is the sexiest. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it; no wonder he sings “Save me from Excess of Joy”. Sopranos Mary Bevan, Susanna Fairbairn and Gillian Ramm as, respectively, Venus, Pallas and Juno, vie with each other for the prize, with tenor Anthony Gregory as Mercury, Jove’s messenger. It’s all sung with a suitable lightness of touch, with sparkling accompaniment from the Brook Street Band, all artfully directed by John Andrews. Continue reading... […]

  • Kate Tempest: The Book of Traps and Lessons review – personal and optimistic
    by Phil Mongredien on 16th June 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Fiction)While Kate Tempest’s first two albums– 2014’s Everybody Down and 2016’s Let Them Eat Chaos - were each absorbing and impressive enough to be Mercury-nominated, there was a sense that at times their discordant post-dubstep soundscapes obscured the power of her lyrics. Her third finds Tempest hooking up with Rick Rubin, and the effect is revelatory. Rubin has largely excised the beats and prominent basslines that defined her earlier work, stripping back the songs to their bare bones. Instead, minor chords abound amid muted touches of piano and sombre strings (and, on I Trap You, what might as well be a field recording from an old-fashioned fairground). By the time, six songs in, Too Late turns out to be entirely spoken word, the absence of any backing barely registers.She’s moved on lyrically too. Where she previously chronicled the hopes and fears of austerity Britain through the lives of various characters, The Book of Traps... is at once both more personal and more optimistic. She addresses the normally unspoken toxic relationship between love and power, most notably on I Trap You, and the shadow of Brexit looms large. And yet amid the bleakness there are regular countervailing flashes of positivity, never more so than on closer People’s Faces, which over five uplifting minutes takes us from lamenting that “my country’s coming apart” to the observation that “there is so much peace to be found in people’s faces”. It’s a touching end to an always thought-provoking record. Continue reading... […]

  • Bill Callahan: Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest review – a sweet and sly return
    by Kitty Empire on 16th June 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Drag City) Related: Bill Callahan: 'I can't die – life is too good, it can't end' “The panic room is now a nursery,” sings veteran leftfield tunesmith Bill Callahan on Son of the Sea. It’s just one instance of pregnant understatement on a 20-track album that ends this extraordinary American songwriter’s six years away from the release schedules. Life happened: marriage, a baby son, the death of his mother and now, a purple patch of tunes that combine the allusive rigour of his finest work with a looser, chatty style. “It’s nice to be writing again,” he offers on Writing. The Ballad of the Hulk, a meditation on anger, playfully details how Callahan “shared a tailor” with the superhero. Continue reading... […]

  • Fred Hersch & the WDR Big Band: Begin Again review – lyrical and terrifying
    by Dave Gelly on 16th June 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Palmetto)When the conversation turns to contemporary jazz pianists, the name of Fred Hersch is apt to be left out. Not because he’s unknown – far from it – but because his constant, undemonstrative presence is too often taken for granted. His best work has been as a soloist or with his piano trio, performing his own shapely, lyrical compositions. He is also a much-praised accompanist to singers. If all this seems a little bland, I suggest you listen to a track here, entitled Out Someplace, subtitled Blues for Matthew Shepard, in memory of a gay man murdered in Wyoming in 1998. A more angry and disturbing piece it’s difficult to imagine, made positively terrifying by the orchestration of Vince Mendoza.Indeed all nine of Hersch’s compositions here, some already well known, gain in colour from Mendoza’s arrangements, not to mention the playing of the Cologne-based WDR band. The sheer brilliance of some European radio bands ensures a regular flow of top US musicians, eager to make use of their talents. The same was true of our own BBC Big Band, but things seem to have gone suspiciously quiet there lately. Continue reading... […]

  • Bruce Springsteen: Western Stars review – quintessentially Boss
    by Neil Spencer on 16th June 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Columbia Records)Couched in the orchestral “countrypolitan” style of George Jones and Glen Campbell at the tail-end of the 1960s, Springsteen’s first album in five years delivers a sound like little else in his extensive catalogue, brimming with lush strings and French horns. Its 13 songs, however, remain quintessentially Bruce, packed with lost highways, girls in parking lots, lonely towns and abandoned motels, with a cast of drifters, blue-collar heroes and bruised romantics.If the songcraft is often inspired, the arrangements are erratic. Like 1982’s Nebraska on orchestral steroids, the booming strings are too grandiose for austere vignettes of a smashed-up stuntman or an over-the-hill actor reminiscing about “being shot by John Wayne” for a drink. A promising cello piece on Chasin’ Wild Horses soon dissolves into a retro Hollywood western score, while the faux Tex-Mex of Sleepy Joe’s Cafe is a misfit. Better are the more subtle touches, augmented by some lovely, plaintive pedal steel, on numbers like Somewhere North of Nashville and Hello Sunshine. Springsteen sings brilliantly throughout, gritty on Hitch Hikin’, Orbison-operatic on the more elaborate pieces, and though the high notes can prove elusive, he retains the cadence of a born narrator. Brave and intriguing. Continue reading... […]

  • Bikini Kill review – return of the riot grrl revolutionaries
    by Kitty Empire on 15th June 2019 at 1:00 pm

    O2 Academy Brixton, LondonThe second coming of Bikini Kill is a gloriously urgent call to arms from a band that have lost none of their visceral powerIn their heyday, Bikini Kill – reunited and on stage in the UK after 23 years – were more than just a punk band. They proposed nothing less than “revolution, girl-style, now”. They stared down misogyny with playground taunts and believed in creating an alternative to mainstream culture (and “alternative” music, for that matter) by foregrounding participation, not virtuosity.But Bikini Kill rocked, too, making for a tight four-piece, reminiscent of Washington DC hardcore legends Minor Threat fronted by Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex: loud and fast, sarcastic and confrontational, equal parts burning sincerity and goofy charm. The first of two nights in this large south London venue, bigger than any they ever played in their first incarnation, retains all those hallmarks. Hanging like a miasma over the simple stage – there are lights, and that’s it – is the weight of expectation of a generation of fans too young to have seen their heroes the first time.Twenty years on, their outpourings of frustration, pain and challenge have not mellowed Continue reading... […]

  • Baroness: Gold & Grey review – ambitious rockers go beyond metal
    by Dave Simpson on 14th June 2019 at 9:30 am

    (Abraxan Hymns) The Philadephia-based quartet have put their travails behind them and found a new sense of purpose on this more psychedelic fifth albumBaroness have certainly paid their dues. A bad 2012 bus crash, resulting in traumatic injuries and the departure of three members, played havoc with the remaining lineup’s mental health and threatened to derail a promising career. On their fifth album, though, they sound like a band who aren’t just determined to make up for lost time, but who have realised what is important and want to make the best possible statement they can. Continue reading... […]

  • Bill Callahan: Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest review – brilliantly sly celebration of family and the infinite
    by Laura Snapes on 14th June 2019 at 9:00 am

    (Drag City)Humour and subtly shattering insights into a new life as a parent add profundity to Callahan’s expansive albumOnline, the “wife guy” gets a bad rap – he is “worthy of suspicion because he appears to be using his devotion to his wife for personal gain”, as the New York Times put it. So Bill Callahan’s latest may arouse suspicion – 20 songs from his perspective as a new husband and father. But despite brilliantly sly lines like, “I got the woman of my dreams / And an imitation Eames” (What Comes After Certainty), Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest is neither uxorious nor queasy. Continue reading... […]

  • Kate Tempest: The Book of Traps and Lessons review – living poetry amid the chaos of 2019
    by Aimee Cliff on 14th June 2019 at 8:30 am

    (American Recordings/Fiction)Producer Rick Rubin has pared back the effects, giving Tempest’s songs about trying to love and dance through our current crises room to reach outKate Tempest’s latest record finds beauty amidst breakdown. The spoken word poet – whose last album, 2016’s Let Them Eat Chaos, was nominated for the Mercury prize – is known for her chest-thumping, rousing statements. But on The Book of Traps and Lessons, she takes a macro view of people (in one breath-catching moment she counts: “7.2 billion humans … 7.3 billion humans …”, and on), before zooming right in to the smallest of intimacies. On Three Sided Coin, she captures the current turbulence of the UK, a nation living “in the mouth of a breaking storm”; and then, quickly, the track unspools into the softer-edged I Trap You, a meditation on a broken-down relationship. Continue reading... […]

  • Park Jiha: Philos review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
    by Ammar Kalia on 14th June 2019 at 7:30 am

    (Tak:til/Glitterbeat)Using no more than three instruments on each track especially the yanggeum, Jiha’s music expresses as much emotion as words could conveyPark Jiha trained in classical Korean instrumentation and has been a key figure, along with bands such as Jambinai, in firmly pushing forward the lineage of “traditional” Korean music. Where her debut, 2018’s Communion, was a group effort, interweaving traditional Korean instruments – the reed wind piri and gargantuan saenghwang – with saxophone and bass clarinet, Philos is a far more isolated affair.Here, her vision finds its clearest expression – featuring just four instruments, or five if you also count the voice of poet Dima El Sayed reading her piece Easy on a song of the same name. As the album’s sole player, Jiha transcends the sum of her tools’ parts to create a deceptively enveloping soundscape that evolves from soft, ambient warmth and playful melody to brittle, bone-rattling tension – textures so uncannily rendered that they almost sound programmed by computer. Continue reading... […]

  • Howells: An English Mass; Cello Concerto; Te Deum etc review – Cleobury's distinctive final offering
    by Andrew Clements on 13th June 2019 at 2:00 pm

    King’s College Choir/Johnston/Britten Sinfonia/Cleobury/Seaman (King’s College, Cambridge, two CDs) The famed music director celebrates his retirement with a fine selection of music by Herbert HowellsAt the end of September, Stephen Cleobury will retire as director of music at King’s College, Cambridge. He’s been in charge of Britain’s best-known choir for 37 years, and among his many innovations there has been the creation of the choir’s own recording label, five years ago. The final release before his departure is this double album of music by Herbert Howells, an appropriate choice as Cleobury has recently become president of the Herbert Howells Society. Continue reading... […]

  • Two Door Cinema Club: False Alarm review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week
    by Alexis Petridis on 13th June 2019 at 11:00 am

    (Prolifica Inc)The Northern Irish trio have embraced electronic pop, but they fail to give their strong hooks any personalityDoes 2019 offer a more baffling musical phenomenon than the continued success of what you might call second-wave noughties indie? Not the bands that erupted into the public consciousness at the start of the decade, with their huge hit singles and era-defining albums and identifiable images eagerly co-opted by fans – Coldplay, the Killers, the Libertines et al – but the ones who came five years later, damned as “landfill indie”, so nondescript you imagined them convening for rehearsals and peering puzzled at their bandmates: “Sorry, do I know you?” Continue reading... […]

  • Radiohead: MiniDiscs (Hacked) review – blueprints for the best album of the 90s
    by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 12th June 2019 at 8:19 am

    This hoard of material from the OK Computer era is an endlessly interesting chronicle of a band reinventing the mainstream by rejecting it‘Not v interesting” is Thom Yorke’s assessment of the 16-odd hours of unheard Radiohead music, recorded between 1995 and 1998, that the band have just shared online. Jonny Greenwood was marginally more effusive: “Only tangentially interesting. And very very long.” You get the sense that their hand was forced by a hacker who was hoping to charge $150,000 for the recordings, which were subsequently leaked; the band are now selling them and giving the proceeds to environmental campaigners Extinction Rebellion.Yorke and Greenwood are absolutely wrong though. This is the holy grail – or perhaps Ark of the Covenant – for hardcore Radiohead disciples, and even has merit for less nerdish fans. It reveals the inner workings of what is regarded by many as the greatest album of the 1990s, showing how they walked alongside and then turned away from the brash Britpop that surrounded them. Here are some of the songs to look out for. Related: Radiohead release hours of hacked MiniDiscs to benefit Extinction Rebellion Continue reading... […]

  • Peter Perrett: Humanworld review – Only Ones legend back to his best
    by Phil Mongredien on 9th June 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Domino)Given his notoriously ruinous lifestyle, Peter Perrett’s 2017 solo debut, How the West Was Won, was a remarkably coherent record. Almost four decades after the Only Ones’ acrimonious dissolution, finally clean after years of heroin and crack addiction, and backed by his sons Jamie (guitar) and Peter Jr (bass), Perrett showed he still had a way with a drawled melody, even if his ruminations on Kim Kardashian’s bottom seemed a little unnecessary.The follow-up is even better, delivered with a greater confidence and urgency, and featuring a handful of songs that almost match up to his late-70s output. The title of the thrillingly direct War Plan Red might be a reference to a 1930 US military plan to attack British interests in the North Atlantic, but when Perrett sings, “The stars and stripes and swastikas filled Madison Square Garden”, it seems more like a snapshot from a dystopian near-future. The mid-paced Master of Destruction, written by his son Jamie and containing the album’s most potent chorus, is stronger still. He’s equally adept on the slower material: Heavenly Day showcases his more romantic side, while Believe in Nothing is heroically nihilistic (“Blackest hole is drawing us in/Bleakest future there’s ever been”). Continue reading... […]

  • Jake Xerxes Fussell: Out of Sight review – upcycled folk with an edge
    by Kitty Empire on 9th June 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Paradise of Bachelors)The memorably named North Carolina-dweller Jake Xerxes Fussell doesn’t release originals – he is a folklorist dedicated to preserving rural music and work songs. Unlike Alan Lomax, who famously recorded American folk and blues with his father in the 20th century, Fussell sings the works he collects. Out of Sight is his third album of mellifluously upcycled cuts. He is now joined by a band – including pedal steel, violin and organ – who make easy-going, back-porch fare out of disparate tunes sourced from as far apart as Florida and Ireland.It’s no criticism, however, because these engaging songs live anew, and this record, often about struggle, flows by with cogent musical warmth. “He’d take the nickels off a dead man’s eyes,” runs a line about a mill foreman on Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, previously repopularised by Pete Seeger. A dancing tune, Jubilee, is delivered with wry bittersweetness. What really elevates Fussell’s record over and above worthy traditionalism, though, is its edge: Fussell is alive to the fantastical edge to a fishmonger’s sales pitch, the extraordinariness of these ordinary songs. Subtle left-field touches take these pieces somewhere special, not least the instrumental 16-20. Continue reading... […]

  • Home listening: Saint Katherine would approve…
    by Fiona Maddocks on 9th June 2019 at 7:00 am

    Medieval magic from the Binchois Consort, the Doric quartet play Britten and Purcell, and the sound of the future• The Catherine whose name is associated with the wheel was Saint Catherine (or Katherine) of Alexandria. As part of their ongoing series exploring the link between English alabaster and medieval music (to summarise a quite subtle idea), the Binchois Consort has created a programme of early polyphony – Music for Saint Katherine (Hyperion) – associated with the virgin-martyr, object of a cult in England after 1066. The best-known composer is Dunstaple (c1390-1453), represented by the devotional Gaude virgo salutata, and the more elaborate motet Salve scema sanctitatis. With works by Walter Frye (d.1475) and others, and images in the CD booklet of Katherine’s martyrdom depicted in alabaster, this disc rewards detailed attention. It’s sung with grace and finesse by this ensemble of six male voices, directed by Andrew Kirkman.• Last October the Doric String Quartet played all Britten’s works for string quartet, together with five Purcell Fantasias, in Snape Maltings, the Suffolk concert hall indelibly associated with the composer. Those enthralling performances are now available on a two-disc Chandos set, as fresh and immediate as they were live. From the Three Divertimenti, a restless appetiser dating from the 1930s, to the middle-period Quartets 1 and 2 and the late, ethereal anguish of No 3, this music spans the full technical and emotional range. The Dorics (with violist Hélène Clément playing Britten’s viola) captures every mood, from steely to poetic to tragic, the structure of each work ever clear. Essential listening. Continue reading... […]

  • Mattiel: Satis Factory review – witty and assured garage rock
    by Emily Mackay on 9th June 2019 at 6:59 am

    (Heavenly)Not many up-and-coming artists would admit to a day job at mass-marketing email company Mailchimp. But Mattiel Brown need fear no accusations of cookie-cutter insincerity. The genre she and the band that bears her name have chosen – punky garage rock with a Dirty Water Club-style vintage finish – attracts many a paper-thin stylist, but could they deploy the line “you want to submit it all for peer review” with the aplomb Brown does on the irresistible strutting rockabilly of Rescue You? For all the Tarantino growl and spaghetti western shlock of opener Til the Moment of Death, this second album carries itself with more assurance than last year’s eponymous debut, with songcraft and witty wordplay coming to the forefront. There’s much here to love for fans of Holly Golightly and affiliates, or formative influences the White Stripes and the Black Lips. Yet Mattiel have mastered their own mischievous energy on the likes of Millionaire’s narcotic bluesy balladry with deadpan backing vocals lifted from the Velvet Underground’s Femme Fatale, the finger-clicks and semi-spoken Tom Tom Club vocal of Food for Thought, or the skittery-cymballed, funky Heck Fire. Continue reading... […]

  • Madonna: Madame X review – a splendidly bizarre return to form
    by Kitty Empire on 8th June 2019 at 1:00 pm

    (Interscope)Madonna’s 14th studio album is an engrossing mix of Latinate beats, political allusion – and Joan of ArcMadonna is in her fourth decade of what we now somewhat suspiciously call appropriation, a pick-and-mix skill set that has previously laid the singer open to accusations of unoriginality or, worse, cultural hijacking.But when the patented Ciccone filtration system gets it right, the process is just shy of alchemy. Sexualised Catholicism, at the dawn of MTV, was Madonna’s first stroke of kismet. The last time Madonna was indisputably on point, she had hooked up with French producer Mirwais for Music (2000) and the sensuous possibilities of club culture. Her latterday output has stuttered somewhat, but for Madame X the stars have aligned with Madonna’s Pinterest mood board once again. There are hot climates and a piratical eye-patch; shape-shifting to the sounds of the Portuguese diaspora, trap-pop and reggeaton.This is an album whose most memorable songs are definitely its strangest Related: Madonna makes call for Israel-Palestine unity at Eurovision Continue reading... […]

  • MoStack: Stacko review – London rapper's imaginative debut perfect for summer in the city
    by Aimee Cliff on 7th June 2019 at 9:30 am

    (Virgin EMI)Finally in the spotlight, Hornsey man MoStack’s debut covers familiar territory, but it’s a joyful experienceLooking back, 2017 was a golden year for melodious hooks in UK rap music – and most of that was down to MoStack. The Hornsey rapper is at the forefront of a London scene blurring the lines between Afro-pop, hip-hop, grime, and dancehall, and in 2017 alone defined the sound by appearing on ubiquitous singles such as Fisherman with J Hus, Screw & Brew with Mist, and No Words with south Londoner Dave. Continue reading... […]

  • Peter Perrett: Humanworld review – sharp melodic rock from former Only One
    by Michael Hann on 7th June 2019 at 9:00 am

    (Domino)After years lost to addiction, Perrett’s second album since 2017 shows his well-judged musical ideas continue to flourishOne comeback album – 2017’s How the West Was Won – was surprising enough.That a second album has come out two years later, making this Peter Perrett’s most productive period since 1978-80, when the Only Ones released their three records, is little short of miraculous. Maybe all the years lost to heroin and crack have been kind to Perrett in one sense; perhaps the missing decades meant he didn’t use up all his best musical ideas in one flush of talent. Humanworld isn’t just good by the standards of albums made by people who spent years on hard drugs, or by the standards of late career revivals: it’s simply a very good album indeed. Continue reading... […]

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