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Album reviews from The Guardian Music

  • Sleater-Kinney: The Center Won’t Hold review – trying too hard?
    by Kate Hutchinson on 18th August 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Mom + Pop)Sleater-Kinney were never going to go for the pop jugular half-arsed. In fact it’s been very much full-arsed, with Carrie Brownstein flashing her bare bum in the trio’s latest press shots. Their ninth album is no-holds-barred: slicker, sultrier, synthier, with producer St Vincent yanking their songs about the post #MeToo moment in some unexpected directions and injecting them with noirish electronics.Drummer Janet Weiss, who left the band last month, clearly wasn’t up for the ride. Who saw the influence of Tool coming on the opening title track, with its metallic clangs and Nine Inch Nails-nodding lines like “I need something holy/ Give me a little taste”, punctured by a burst of eviscerating punk rock? Can I Go On is great but sounds a bit like… the Killers? Continue reading... […]

  • Shura: Forevher review – airy summer jams
    by Damien Morris on 18th August 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Secretly Canadian)As with Shura’s debut, Nothing’s Real, her second album is front-loaded. After a brief intro come Forevher’s three best songs, followed by a slump it never quite recovers from. Side Effects is the clear highlight, a perfect collision of aesthetic and emotion. The English songwriter’s spacey, super-melodic, immaculately produced pop casts a wonderful spell when it works, particularly on lead single Religion (U Can Lay Your Hands on Me) or the swooning, filtered coda to The Stage, as endless as summer seems in early July.It just feels that whenever the rhythms retreat, the songwriting behind these airy, 80s-Janet Jackson jams isn’t always strong enough to really connect. Shura’s sugary voice works best when the beat is insistent, pulling you towards the dancefloor in your head. Sometimes she sounds tamed, quiescent, processed and treated, her vocal lacking the personality to overcome the distancing effect of its digital rendering. That said, you can always hear how songs such as Forever or the endearingly batty Flyin’ (“a virgin had a baby, it’s crazy… I’m scared of flying/ I’m scared of dying”) could be remixed into magic, while the languorous closer Skyline, Be Mine is a beauty. Continue reading... […]

  • Blanck Mass: Animated Violence Mild review – Power reins in the cacophony
    by Phil Mongredien on 18th August 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Sacred Bones)With the unlikely Olympian duo Fuck Buttons having largely been on the back burner since 2013, Benjamin John Power has had plenty of time to concentrate on his side project, Blanck Mass. Not surprisingly, many of the highlights of his fourth solo album – a treatise on capitalism and loss – nod to Power’s better-known band. Death Drop drags distorted death metal screams on to the dancefloor and ends up coming across as an industrial evisceration of the Doctor Who theme music. Album highlight Love Is a Parasite, meanwhile, is the sort of overloaded Wagnerian techno maximalism that is Fuck Buttons’ calling card, its distorted beats driving a melange of house motifs, deeply buried R&B vocal lines, soaring orchestral strings and punishing sheets of noise.But just as 2017’s World Eater showcased a newfound knack for melodic levity amid the Sturm und Drang, so Power reins in the cacophony here on the blissfully minimal Creature/West Fuqua. The hypnotic No Dice eases back on the intensity, aims for the hips rather than going for the throat, and consequently is rather more Massive Attack than massive attack. Continue reading... […]

  • Leslie Stevens: Sinner review – potent ‘cosmic country’
    by Neil Spencer on 18th August 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Thirty Tigers)Raised in Missouri, Leslie Stevens has spent her professional life in Los Angeles fronting a country rock band. Much loved by LA’s Americana crowd, and with a couple of decent albums to her name, she seemed perpetually on the verge of a breakout that never quite arrived. After a few years below the radar – motherhood will do that – Stevens has re-emerged with an album that should establish her credentials as a singer-songwriter of skill and passion.Not everyone will love her voice – effortlessly melodic, though with a pinch of Joanna Newsom-style squeakiness involved – but Sinner, burnished by producer Jonathan Wilson with strands of steel guitar and even Mellotron, packs a potent emotional punch. At its centre are a cluster of songs about a burned-out affair: a pair of forlorn country ballads in Falling and Sinner, and Depression, Descent, the devastated reflections of which are belied by its catchy, soft rock style. Stevens is strong on narrative: Teen Bride laments a young woman pregnant with “a baby that would never live to see Missouri”, while The Tillman Song honours a former NFL athlete killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. For a self-styled purveyor of “cosmic country”, Stevens proves admirably grounded. Continue reading... […]

  • Home listening: Scriabin, Chopin and Liszt piano works
    by Fiona Maddocks on 18th August 2019 at 7:00 am

    New releases from Chen Yunjie and Mariam Batsashvili; and Edinburgh mornings on Radio 3• The Chinese pianist Chen Yunjie, now reaching mid-career having had a prodigious start, is among the few players in the world to have performed the 10 sonatas of Scriabin in one concert. That may sound like a Guinness world record kind of feat, but Chen’s live recording of Scriabin’s Sonatas Nos 6, 1, 8 and 5 (Accentus) suggests dedication indeed to this singular, sensuous body of music: romantic in the earlier examples, then spinning off into aural and structural fantasy. Chen calls the Sonata No 8, Op 66 his favourite (it was the last Scriabin composed). Its single-movement structure, melancholic and phantasmagorical, captures the pianist’s imagination and draws the best of his playing. Related: The week in classical: Proms 32, 34 & 35; Rinaldo review – happy returns all round Continue reading... […]

  • Blanck Mass: Animated Violence Mild review – grief, rage and transcendent electronica
    by Aimee Cliff on 16th August 2019 at 9:30 am

    (Sacred Bones)Mourning the death of the planet and a parent, Ben Power has made an album that fuses existential fear with sheer beautyBack in 2012, Blanck Mass sounded optimistic. Ben Power’s one-man electro-noise project (distinct from his work as part of the duo Fuck Buttons) was best known for his ambient headrush of a composition, Sundowner, which was used as part of the soundtrack for Danny Boyle’s buoyant Olympics opening ceremony. But, as the political mood of the country continued to sour, Power’s work darkened in response, leading up to 2017’s snarling World Eater, and now Animated Violence Mild: an album where blind rage and beauty commingle. In the accompanying press release, Power describes how the record was born of grief – he wrote it while musing on how consumerism is destroying our planet. In the final stages of recording, his father died, and so he also began processing this deeply personal loss alongside his global mourning. Continue reading... […]

  • The Hold Steady: Thrashing Thru the Passion review – chancers and chasers in fist-punching glory
    by Al Horner on 16th August 2019 at 9:00 am

    (Frenchkiss Records)Craig Finn’s barstool-rock raconteurs paint a portrait of booze-soaked Americana with their most enthralling record in yearsYou don’t listen to Hold Steady albums – you live in them. Craig Finn’s barstool-rock raconteurs’ six albums so far have been engrossing adventures through an America full of delinquents and dreamers, their stories sketched into bolshy, blue-collar indie singalongs. It’s a formula that’s served the group well: with the exception of 2010 misstep Heaven Is Whenever, the Hold Steady have operated with a dependability befitting their band name since forming in Brooklyn in 2003, amassing a devoted cult fanbase in the process. On seventh album Thrashing Thru the Passion, they further cement their punk poet laureate credentials over 10 songs-cum-caterwauling character studies that are among Finn and friends’ most enthralling to date. Continue reading... […]

  • The Murder Capital: When I Have Fears review – a raw, rampaging debut
    by Dave Simpson on 16th August 2019 at 8:30 am

    (Human Season Records)Dublin five-piece draws on post-punk from Joy Division to Idles, but their thrillingly unnerving energy is all their ownPost-punk has been a fruitful genre for many a young band in recent years, with careers sustained by sounding like a facsimile of Joy Division. Dublin-based quintet the Murder Capital are surely familiar with that ensemble, and some of Diarmuid Brennan’s staccato drum beats would fit snugly on Unknown Pleasures. However, the band’s palette draws on decades of the genre, stretching from early luminaries Modern English to more recent pacesetters Idles; urgent guitars cohabit with gentler piano and violin. Continue reading... […]

  • Friendly Fires: Inflorescent review – deliciously cheesy 80s disco vibes
    by Rachel Aroesti on 16th August 2019 at 8:00 am

    (Casablanca Records/Polydor)Harking back to the era of funkily optimistic pop may not speak to our times, but FF’s first album in eight years is truly joyousWhen Friendly Fires released their debut album in 2008, the St Albans trio’s busy, brooding brand of electro-punk seemed precision-engineered for a music scene craving respite from the scratchy guitars and pointy brogues of landfill indie. By the time the band’s second, Pala, came out three years later, they were on the precipice of proper mainstream success; their dancefloor-friendly synthpop merged intricate, pulsing percussion with big, yearning choruses. Now, however, as the band return to a fractured pop landscape after a momentum-quashing eight-year break, their relationship to the zeitgeist is far less clear. Perhaps they know this: on their third album, they instead seem intent on submerging themselves in the past. Continue reading... […]

  • Širom: A Universe That Roasts Blossoms for a Horse review | John Lewis's contemporary album of the month
    by John Lewis on 16th August 2019 at 7:30 am

    (tak:til/Glitterbeat)Three classically trained musicians from Slovenia make meticulously plotted episodic music that sounds lopsidedIf you were to chance upon any fragment of the music made by Širom, you might reasonably conclude that it was some anthropological field recording, taken from a traditional folk compilation. There are bits where an ululating female vocal is accompanied by a banjo and what sounds like a Hardanger fiddle, and you could swear that it was something that – say – Nordic shepherds might have been playing for centuries. You’ll hear wailing reed instruments set against chaotic percussion, and for a few seconds you might think that you’re listening to the ecstatic Sufi trance music of the Master Musicians of Joujouka; there are slurring solos on indeterminate stringed instruments that invoke a Chinese erhu, or an Indian sitar, or a hurdy-gurdy.Except none of this is actually “traditional” music. Širom are a trio of classically trained musicians from Slovenia – Ana Kravanja, Samo Kutin and Iztok Koren – who play dozens of instruments between them and describe their work as “imaginary folk music”. That phrase was first coined by the critic Serge Moreux in the 1950s, when referring to the way in which Bartók and Kodály processed traditional Hungarian melodies, but Širom’s folk forgeries are weirder and more pan-global. This is actually densely written and meticulously plotted music, played live on acoustic instruments, apparently without any overdubs. The songs (some of them 15 minutes long) are episodic, dreamlike voyages – qawwali-style vocal wailing and medieval drones mutate into free-jazz freakouts; steampunk techno (played on pots, pans and cutlery) shifts into gamelan music, anchored by squelchy bass sounds. Continue reading... […]

  • Goldschmidt: Beatrice Cenci review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
    by Andrew Clements on 15th August 2019 at 2:00 pm

    James/Pohl/Kaiser/Wiener Symphoniker/Debus (C Major, DVD) The German composer’s opera about the daughter of a monstrous Italian patriarch is worth revisiting in this stylish productionBerthold Goldschmidt’s adaptation of Shelley’s 1819 tragedy The Cenci was one of the four prize-winners in a competition for new opera organised in conjunction with the 1951 Festival of Britain. The winners were promised performances of their scores, but funds ran out, and though extracts from Beatrice Cenci were broadcast by the BBC in 1953, it was forgotten until 1988, when there was finally a concert performance of the complete work in London. The first staging took place in Magdeburg in 1994, two years before Goldschmidt’s death at the age of 93. A pupil of Franz Schreker in Berlin in the 1920s, Goldschmidt lived in Britain for more than 60 years, but, discouraged by a lack of performances, he gave up composition in the late 1950s to concentrate on his career as a conductor.After the Magdeburg premiere, Beatrice Cenci was not seen again until a production last year at the Bregenz festival, which has now been issued on DVD. Sung in the composer’s own German translation of Martin Esslin’s rather wordy English libretto, the nicely stylised production by Johannes Erath makes a good case for at least occasional stagings of a work whose story – daughter kills the father who has raped her, and finds herself tortured and finally executed by the church for her “crime” – is no more gruesome than those of many established repertory pieces. Continue reading... […]

  • Sleater-Kinney: The Centre Won't Hold review | Ben Beaumont-Thomas's album of the week
    by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 15th August 2019 at 11:00 am

    (Mom + Pop)Drummer Janet Weiss has left the band since recording this St Vincent-produced album – but their songwriting suggests they can weather anythingIn WB Yeats’ most famous line, “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”. Things were pretty bad when he wrote that in 1919, the first world war segueing smoothly into the Irish war of independence, but Sleater-Kinney twist the line into something even worse. The centre “won’t” hold – it could, but it won’t. Order might theoretically reign, but we’d prefer to reject it and watch the world burn.This, then, is an album full of friction: between bodies, generations and, it turns out, the band themselves. The Pacific Northwest trio went on hiatus for a decade after what many consider their masterpiece, The Woods, in 2005; co-frontwoman Carrie Brownstein became hipster-famous in the interim for her sketch comedy show Portlandia. They returned to huge acclaim with No Cities to Love in 2015, and for this follow-up, enlisted Annie Clark, AKA St Vincent, as producer. But before its release, drummer Janet Weiss quit after 22 years, saying “the band is moving in a new direction and it is time for me to move on”. Related: Sleater-Kinney: ‘Music has always been the playground of men’s sexuality’ Continue reading... […]

  • Bon Iver: i,i review – complex and majestic
    by Damien Morris on 11th August 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Jagjaguwar)Apparently, i,i completes a seasonal quartet of Bon Iver albums, starting with the wintry confessions of 2008’s For Emma, Forever Ago and ending now, in autumn. Yet i,i has a brighter, more optimistic and open feel than its “summer” predecessor 22, a Million, with its often impenetrable numerology, distorted Yeezus beats and gutpunch bass. What remains from past seasons is Heavenly Father’s digital gospel, and a little of 00000 Million’s acoustic directness.But what holds Bon Iver’s ever-evolving backwoods orchestra together is Justin Vernon’s yearning vocals. Less obviously Auto-Tuned than before, words tumble out, meaning slips in and out of focus, and the weirdly annoying anachronisms, gnomic neologisms and ecstatic revelations push you to privilege feeling over thinking. The album peaks somewhere around the heartstopping beauty of Hey, Ma’s drifting, wordless middle eight, a breakdown brimming with inarticulate emotion, barely understood, unmediated. Continue reading... […]

  • Tubby Hayes Quartet: Grits, Beans and Greens review – intense and absorbing
    by Dave Gelly on 11th August 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Fontana/Decca)Come summer, come the time for unearthing long-lost jazz masterpieces. This time it’s four 50-year-old reels of tape, bearing the final studio recording of tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes (1935-73). Despite his nickname, he wasn’t fat, just stocky. Entirely self-taught, Hayes was a genuine prodigy – a professional musician from the age of 16. His endless flow of musical invention was delivered with almost contemptuous ease. Through the late 1950s and early 60s he was the brightest star of British modern jazz, and even caused a stir in the US. By 1969, however, ill health and drugs had derailed his career, and in an effort to get back he was dabbling in easy listening.But his main goal was to make an album with his new young quartet. After several false starts they made one, and this is it. Forget easy listening; this is an intense and absorbing experience. It’s a product of its time, certainly, but it was an exciting and often bewildering time, and the Tubby Hayes Quartet caught its essence perfectly. Available in CD and other formats, including a deluxe double CD with extra material. Continue reading... […]

  • Marika Hackman: Any Human Friend review – frank breakup album
    by Tara Joshi on 11th August 2019 at 7:00 am

    (EMI)Breakup albums are standard fare in the world of pop and rock, but it’s hard to think of nearly enough that feature odes to women masturbating while subverting the heteronormative gaze. Enter British singer-songwriter Marika Hackman with her third album, and glorious songs such as Hand Solo (“I gave it all, but under patriarchal law, I’m gonna die a virgin”).Queer sex, self-pleasure and a general wry frankness are consistent themes throughout Any Human Friend, which follows the end of Hackman’s four-year relationship with fellow musician Amber Bain, aka the Japanese House. Hackman has spoken lately of a newfound love of swimming, and on tracks such as the woozy, sweet-as-summer-wine Wanderlust you can feel the quiet meditativeness of moving through water as she wrings out the past – “Did I make her laugh, or was it just pretend?” – with disarming candour. Continue reading... […]

  • The Regrettes: How Do You Love? review – reliably explosive
    by Emily Mackay on 11th August 2019 at 7:00 am

    (Warner)Smashing riot grrrl into girl-group doo-wop is hardly new: Bikini Kill did it from the off, and this young California quartet are a mere syllable away from England’s retro punk poppers the Pipettes. Still, it’s a reliably explosive formula, and despite questionable structural integrity as a band (four members lost in as many years of existence), their second album reveals a rock-solid west coast pop-punk spine, the skanking likes of Stop and Go exuberantly announcing them heirs to No Doubt.Unlike that band, the Regrettes didn’t take 10 years of gigging to break through. Signed to Warner early on, and shiny as a new penny, for them DIY is a flavour rather than a founding principle. Frontwoman Lydia Night’s decision to appear alongside Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong on rightwing edgelord Morrissey’s recent covers album also suggests she hasn’t quite got all her political ducks in a row yet. Continue reading... […]

  • Home listening: a must for RVW fans, and more
    by Stephen Pritchard on 11th August 2019 at 7:00 am

    Vaughan Williams’s incidental music for an abandoned production of Richard II, recorded for the first time, features on a fine disc from the RSNO• Even at the height of the second world war, the BBC was commissioning new music, particularly to accompany stirring radio dramas designed to inspire the stoical people of these islands. Britten wrote for Edward Sackville-West’s The Rescue and Walton for Louis MacNeice’s Christopher Columbus, and when a major production of Shakespeare’s Richard II was planned, Ralph Vaughan Williams was commissioned to provide the incidental music. He had already produced successive film scores in the war effort – 49th Parallel, Coastal Command and The Story of a Flemish Farm – and now here was a chance to write for wartime radio. His carefully tailored score was delivered (and paid for), but the production was abandoned in 1944 and the music forgotten.Now we can hear it for the first time, in a recording by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Dutton Epoch) under Martin Yates. More than 30 radio cues are presented in sequence, some short fanfares and entrance and exit music; others longer sections illustrating action or characters. All are unmistakably RVW, and show what a meticulous craftsman he was. Cellist Nadège Rochat joins the orchestra for the Fantasia on Sussex Folk Tunes, flautist Anna Noakes for Roger Steptoe’s arrangement of the Suite de Ballet, and baritone Roderick Williams sings the evergreen Songs of Travel. A must for RVW fans. Continue reading... […]

  • Feeder: Tallulah review – zeitgeist-avoiding alt-rockers fall flat
    by Al Horner on 9th August 2019 at 9:30 am

    (Victor Entertainment)Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose’s 10th album features unfashionable guitar anthems with MOR flourishesNewport duo Feeder might forever be known for a song named after a man displaced in time: Buck Rogers (on their sci-fi tinted anthem Echo Park), which reached the UK Top 5 in 2001. Eighteen years after that commercial peak, as the band mark their 25th anniversary with 10th album Tallulah, Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose sound a little displaced themselves. Continue reading... […]

  • Trippie Redd: ! review – compelling but contradictory emo-rap
    by Rachel Aroesti on 9th August 2019 at 9:00 am

    (Caroline)With conflicting messages and music, it seems as if Redd has sacrificed a clear artistic identity in favour of sending shockwaves through hip-hopThe voice of Trippie Redd – AKA 20-year-old Ohioan rapper Michael White – is nothing if not inconsistent. Sometimes he showcases a strange, deeply melodic croon, one that manages to feel rich and strained, soulful and flat, all at the same time. Elsewhere, he deploys a softly guttural gurgle, or a bratty whine. This slippery identity extends to his message – which feels confusing and contradictory. “Say no to suicide”, he mutters melancholically (and apparently earnestly) on Snake Skin, before scoffing that his rivals are so intimidated that they “gon’ kill theyselves they see me stuntin’”. Be Yourself, meanwhile, initially comes over like a self-acceptance anthem, before ordering its subject to “change” and “kill yourself”. Continue reading... […]

  • Marika Hackman: Any Human Friend review – selfishness, sex and passion
    by Aimee Cliff on 9th August 2019 at 8:30 am

    (Sub Pop)With deadpan humour and rock-star confidence, Hackman essays her own restive, messy desires, from denial to acceptanceThe phrase Any Human Friend is taken straight from the mouth of a four-year-old. Singer-songwriter Marika Hackman says that she saw a child use it in a Channel 4 documentary, about kids who befriend elderly people with dementia. It immediately seemed to her that this had to be the title of her new album: an album that’s all about bodies, instinct, and childlike, unfiltered thoughts. Continue reading... […]

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