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Album reviews February 2020

Album reviews February 2020
Album reviews

 

King Krule: Man Alive! review – stirring, dreamy optimism

by Tara Joshi on 23rd February 2020 at 3:00 pm (XL)Archy Marshall has been refining his woozy, washed-out sounds since he emerged back in 2010. With each release under his King Krule moniker, he has shown a proclivity for deeply emotive, expansive musicality steeped in urban loneliness. Since his last album as King Krule, 2017’s Mercury-nominated The Ooz, Marshall and his partner have had a child and moved out of London – he seems happier, lighter for it.Like its predecessors, Man Alive! was recorded at night, and it swims languorously with romance and tenderness, deftly pulling sonics from jazz, post-punk, soul and dubstep. Through the dreamlike wails of sax and scuzz, optimism seeps through. “The rain will pass in time,” he advises on Alone, Omen 3. Marshall’s grizzled vocals ebb and flow, from lamenting “another lonely night” to declaring “you’re my everything” on Perfecto Miserable. On closing track Please Complete Thee, he despairs about “everything just constantly letting me down” over charged synths and pining guitar reverb, before the tone shifts to something more uplifting and twinkling. The final refrain of “please complete me” carries a powerful sense of hope – an end befitting an album that finds King Krule hitting a new stride. Continue reading…

Best Coast: Always Tomorrow review – sanitised sobriety from indie rock duo

by Damien Morris on 23rd February 2020 at 1:00 pm (Concord)“I didn’t want to write a song about you, yeah/ In case it was too good to be true” is a genius opening line to a song (True), with its multiple meanings and reflexive ironies. You can hear that Bethany Cosentino is proud of it, because she really drags out its delivery, almost to the point that its punchy brilliance is lost. What’s disappointing about Best Coast’s first album in five years is that not much else feels as shocking or powerfully true.This is Cosentino’s first set of sobriety songs, but not enough of the shame or damage that must have attended her decision to give up drinking informs the duo’s politely executed indie rock. “If everything’s OK/ Then what the hell do I complain about?”, from the outstanding song Everything Has Changed, says it all. Written at one of Cosentino’s low ebbs, tormented by writer’s block and booze, it flags an issue that is wrestled with yet never resolved by this solid but unchallenging album. Great art doesn’t have to come from a place of great discomfort, but it often helps. Always Tomorrow always chooses cosseting its audience over confronting more painful truths. Continue reading…

Home listening: Bach, Haydn, Mozart and more

by Nicholas Kenyon on 23rd February 2020 at 5:30 am Energy abounds in new releases from Philippe Herreweghe and Giovanni Antonini, plus Iván Fischer and the OAE live on BBC Sounds• In nearly half a century since the Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe began performing Bach’s St John Passion (in the earliest performances he shared the direction, conducting the choruses while Ton Koopman directed the arias), he has broadened his repertory vastly. On the evidence of a new recording (Phi), this has only served to deepen and tighten his response to Bach’s 1724 masterpiece. From the pounding, grinding opening chorus onwards, this is a completely gripping picture of the Passion story. The rising chromatic choruses of part two, as the crowd calls for crucifixion, are absolutely electrifying, while the chorales, mostly done quietly and simply, are moments of wistful personal reflection amid the tumult.One shock to a purist early-music approach will be the use of the eloquent tenor Maximilian Schmitt as a thoroughly operatic Evangelist, but he matches well the dramatic approach of the whole. Soprano Dorothee Mields is unsurpassed in Zerfliesse, mein Herze, while Herreweghe’s choir Collegium Vocale Gent, replenished over the years, is ever fresh and precise. Continue reading…

Pete Whittaker, Art Themen, George Double: Thane & the Villeins review – masterly medieval larks

by Dave Gelly on 22nd February 2020 at 4:00 pm (Hadleigh Jazz)What we have here is a first-rate trio playing jazz standards by such greats as Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock and Cannonball Adderley. For a full explanation of the medieval tomfoolery side of it, you have to read the notes. These contain extracts from texts and emails, in cod 14th-century English, written and circulated among the three of them: drummer George Double (Thane), organist Pete Whittaker and tenor saxophonist Art Themen (the Villeins). No one should pass up the chance of hearing Themen. He’s one of the very few totally original, and at the same time utterly engaging jazz musicians around.Usually, even with the best, you have some idea of where the improvisation is going, some route from A to B, but Themen will pile up ideas, apparently at random, maybe with the odd outlandish quotation for good measure, and when he’s finished, it all seems to have made sense. There are 10 tracks here, and they all have something of that about them, especially Forest Flower and the ballad Willow Weep For Me. Themen’s tone is unique too: soft-edged but insistent. An excellent set – and don’t forget the notes. Continue reading…

King Krule: Man Alive! review – disgust, dissolution and despair

by Rachel Aroesti on 21st February 2020 at 10:30 am (XL Recordings)The south Londoner’s third album offers flashes of brilliance but is weighed down by a tone of gravelly gloom King Krule, AKA 25-year-old south London native Archy Marshall, has always let his work sprawl. His 2013 debut, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, was a staggeringly novel and sometimes exquisite mashup of laptop hip-hop, smoky jazz and folk-punk, yet it was also loose and listless: a collection of guitar figures and gravelly moans that periodically coalesced into greatness.Man Alive!, his third album as King Krule, maintains many facets of his still beguiling original sound – the uneasy synth washes, the foregrounded strumming, his bassy rasp. But the fragments of melody and bursts of momentum that carried his previous material (2017’s The Ooz was pretty impressionistic but at least featured some singalong segments) have largely gone. Instead, Man Alive! is mainly concerned with evoking disgust, dissolution and despair via vague choruses, eerie vocal samples and dogged dissonance. Continue reading…

Sightless Pit: Grave of a Dog review – witchy trio unleash hell

by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 21st February 2020 at 10:00 am (Thrill Jockey)The underground supergroup bin their guitars in favour of obscure sound-making – and conjure a gloriously hellish mood‘When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning or in rain?” That’s what you can imagine this decidedly witchy trio saying to each other after finishing this study in brutality. They are an underground supergroup of Kristin Hayter (AKA doom-laden torch singer Lingua Ignota), Lee Buford (drummer from the utterly brilliant outsider metal duo the Body) and Dylan Walker (vocalist from the equally brilliant grindcore band Full of Hell).The trio subvert expectations by doing away with guitars and live drums altogether, instead using drum machines, samples and more obscure means to scorch the earth. As ever, Hayter sound like she’s delivering a benediction in a church on fire, and she’s trying nobly to withstand the flames. When the group’s productions pare back to quivering ambient drift and pulsations from far below, on Violent Rain and Love Is Dead, All Love Is Dead, she seems to regard the wreckage around her sadly. Walker, meanwhile, is the sound of the violence that got us here, his unhinged howl often fed through a mesh of static. Continue reading…

Best Coast: Always Tomorrow review – former slackers knuckle down in style

by Laura Snapes on 21st February 2020 at 9:30 am Concord MusicThe duo show why they’ve outlasted their beach-bum peers with a delightful study of reinvention and contentmentBest Coast emerged in 2010 as the faces of a California slacker wave that evangelised cats, weed, guitar and the beach, and not a great deal more – an enviable lifestyle that enchanted fans and chimed with a generation’s post-recession hopelessness, though its burnout was inevitable. Sure enough, Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno’s peers vanished, and their scene’s louche allure was surpassed over the subsequent decade by entrepreneurialism, and later wellness. Continue reading…

Ozzy Osbourne: Ordinary Man review – his final statement?

by Michael Hann on 21st February 2020 at 9:00 am (BMG) The elegiac lyrics on Osbourne’s 12th solo album stand in contrast with the off-the-cuff vibe of its musicGiven his recent tribulations – notably his diagnosis with Parkinson’s – it’s hardly surprising that there is a sometimes elegiac feel to Ozzy Osbourne’s 12th solo album. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I gave my life a try / Forgive me, I didn’t say goodbye,” he sings on Goodbye. On the title track, a stately duet in the post-Beatles mould with Elton John, he opens with the observation “I was unprepared for fame / Then everybody knew my name”, before announcing “I don’t want to die an ordinary man” and “I don’t know why I’m still alive”. Continue reading…

Pulled By Magnets: Rose Golden Doorways review | John Lewis’s contemporary album of the month

by John Lewis on 21st February 2020 at 8:30 am (tak:til/Glitterbeat)Seb Rochford’s new trio deploy effects-laden instruments to play sludge rock disguised as ambience. It’s … unique Seb Rochford is best known as leader of the post-jazz outfit Polar Bear and co-founder of the punk-jazzers Acoustic Ladyland, as well as being a founder member of Sons of Kemet and a session drummer for everyone from Pete Doherty to Adele to Brian Eno. However, his latest project, Pulled By Magnets, sounds nothing like any of the above. It is sludge rock disguised as ambient music; a grindcore album recorded in a cavernous church and overlaid with subtle spiritual tropes to the point that it sounds like a piece of holy minimalism. Continue reading…

Bezuidenhout: Beethoven Piano Concertos 2 and 5 review | Erica Jeal’s classical album of the week

by Erica Jeal on 20th February 2020 at 3:00 pm Bezuidenhout/Heras-Casado/Freiburger Barockorchester(Harmonia Mundi) Kristian Bezuidenhout and Pablo Heras-Casado make these concertos sing in readings that feel both freewheeling and profoundHopefully you are not sick of Beethoven yet in his 250th anniversary year, because there are plenty of recordings to come that you might not have realised you need to hear. The five Piano Concertos are hardly under-recorded, but it is well worth making space for this first release in a planned complete set by Kristian Bezuidenhout, the Freiburger Barockorchester and conductor Pablo Heras-Casado. Continue reading…

Grimes: Miss Anthropocene review – a toxicity report on modern celebrity

by Alexis Petridis on 20th February 2020 at 12:00 pm (4AD)Notionally a concept album about the goddess of climate crisis, the Canadian’s fifth album is actually a compellingly chaotic statement about her own private lifeMiss Anthropocene has had a lengthy, difficult birth. As perhaps befits an album that was announced in 2017, then derailed by ferocious-sounding spats between artist and record company, rerecording, and rejigging of the track listing, it comes with a weighty concept attached. Miss Anthropocene is, Grimes says, a work based around the idea of anthropomorphising climate change into the figure of a villainous goddess (“she’s naked all the time and she’s made out of ivory and oil”) whose name is a conflation of “misanthrope” and the proposed scientific term for the current geological epoch, and who celebrates the imminent destruction of the world.’This is the sound of the end of the world,’ she sings over a haze of noisy, shoegazey guitar Related: Pop star, producer or pariah? The conflicted brilliance of Grimes Continue reading…

Beach Bunny: Honeymoon review – a short, sweet blast of sunny indie-pop

by Phil Mongredien on 16th February 2020 at 3:00 pm (Mom + Pop)What began in 2015 as a bedroom project for Chicago-based Lili Trifilio had become something of an online phenomenon by the time 2018’s self-released Prom Queen was streamed 67m times. Now a fully fleshed-out four-piece with an actual record deal, Beach Bunny’s debut full-length effort doesn’t disappoint: Honeymoon is a blast of upbeat indie-pop that in February sounds as anachronous as it is welcome. Throughout, lyrical anxieties (“I’m afraid of being alone”) are offset against breezily carefree hooks that waste little time getting to a bittersweet chorus, before ending just as quickly.The most obvious touchstone is the sun-kissed indie perfected by Best Coast, down to the sentiments expressed in Beach Bunny’s Ms California (“Everything’s better in California”), which mirror Bethany Cosentino’s love letters to her home state (most notably The Only Place) – albeit in Trifilio’s case, looking in from the outside. Colorblind and Cuffing Season are particularly irresistible, while the more intimate Racetrack, with Trifilio backed by just a slightly distorted keyboard, shares much with Big Thief. The slightly leaden climax to Rearview aside, there’s barely a second wasted in Honeymoon’s 25-minute running time. Continue reading…

Justin Bieber: Changes review – mid-tempo wedded bliss

by Michael Cragg on 16th February 2020 at 1:00 pm (Def Jam)Nothing frames a pop album quite like a redemption narrative, and for Justin Bieber this is his second in a row. While 2015’s Purpose, preceded by problems with the police and a much publicised breakup, was full of culture-shifting hits, from the pleading Sorry to the bitter Love Yourself, Changes – created in the midst of health issues and a hasty marriage to model Hailey Baldwin – finds Bieber swapping instant anthems for mid-tempo, trap-adjacent R&B often rendered frictionless by bedroom-centred wedded bliss. So on the tactile Available he coos: “Say I’m number one on your to-do list,” while Come Around Me’s “Do me like you miss me” hook swims around a modern approximation of 90s new jack swing.There are welcome changes of pace – the rib-rattling Forever featuring Post Malone a highlight – but the tempo drops again for a suite of acoustic sketches that touch on God (the title track), patience (Confirmation) and, on ETA, the joys of online surveillance (“Drop me a pin so I can know your location”). It’s a subdued end to an album that feels like a purely selfish endeavour on Bieber’s part. After years of people-pleasing, perhaps that’s its biggest success. Continue reading…

Moses Boyd: Dark Matter review – party-facing solo debut

by Kitty Empire on 16th February 2020 at 9:00 am (Exodus)Moses Boyd is a drummer in the same way Questlove from the Roots is a drummer, which is to say that the twice Mobo-winning 28-year-old Londoner is a producer-composer-collaborator-influencer not bound by the kit surrounding him. A progenitor of the current London jazz scene, Boyd’s official solo debut goes large on cross-pollination – and dancing.Whereas Boyd’s previous Mobo-winning duo with the saxophonist Binker Golding and his Exodus ensemble remained more or less on-genre, Dark Matter exists very much in the wake of Boyd’s breakout track of 2016, Rye Lane Shuffle (which featured Four Tet and Floating Points on mixes). This is the London hybrid jazz of now – a party-facing electronic record that takes note of Afrobeats, two-step garage and Boyd’s travels in South Africa. Continue reading…

Home listening: Howard Skempton piano works and more

by Fiona Maddocks on 16th February 2020 at 5:30 am Dedicatee William Howard shines in Skempton’s Preludes and Fugues; Italian pianist Alessio Bax keeps it close to home. Plus, the Royal Opera’s Norma on Radio 3• Howard Skempton’s 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano, performed by William Howard (Orchid Classics), for whom they were written, take inspiration from the models of JS Bach and Shostakovich. As with all his music, Skempton (b1947) has used great aural economy to create something of lasting power. He completed the set in 2019, giving himself the challenge of making each piece fit on an A4 page, which means the longest of these jewelled works lasts little over a minute.While the preludes are quick and, mostly, canonic, sometimes seeming to stop in mid-air, the fugues are slower, often equally inconclusive but moving the music forward harmonically (Bach, Shostakovich and Skempton each choose different methods to move through the cycle of keys). This recent set of works is paired with the 20 short Images (1989), Three Nocturnes (1995) and 11 Reflections (1999-2002). Delicate, incisive, atmospheric, this music, as played by Howard, acts as balm to brain, ear and soul. Continue reading…

Seth Lakeman: A Pilgrim’s Tale review – all aboard the Mayflower

by Neil Spencer on 15th February 2020 at 4:00 pm (BMG)The actual 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s setting sail from Plymouth for America isn’t until September, but Devon-born Seth Lakeman is in early with an album chronicling the ship’s troubled voyage. Its genesis lies with Lakeman’s visit to the ship’s hallowed landing spot, Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, where he met descendants of the Wampanoag people who confronted the Mayflower’s exhausted Puritan émigrés.The dozen songs here – three of them, including a sea shanty, drawn from tradition – feature typically robust performances from Lakeman on fiddle and vocals, ably supported by multi-instrumentalist Benji Kirkpatrick. There’s passion aplenty but little light and shade beyond the opening Watch Out, an indigenous American woman’s intuition that things will end badly for the locals, where Cara Dillon adds backing vocals. She also helps out on the other reflective piece, Saints and Sinners. Continue reading…

Tame Impala: The Slow Rush review – polished disco funk

by Kitty Empire on 15th February 2020 at 2:00 pm (Fiction)Kevin Parker shifts further away from his psych rock roots, while pondering happiness and his continued relevanceAround the time of 2015’s Currents – the third Tame Impala album – mainman Kevin Parker described having an epiphany some time previously. Driving around Los Angeles on magic mushrooms and cocaine, he realised just how magnificent the Bee Gees sounded, emotionally and technically. Parker is an Australian man given to singing beatific, double-tracked harmonies in falsetto; he is also a studio nerd with a long and attentive study of psychedelia behind him. The sound of the Bee Gees on mushrooms insinuated itself into Parker’s work, culminating in a massive and deserved hit album.Currents was an album all about transition, on which Parker disentangled himself, as gently as he could, from a relationship to begin anew. At the same time, this progenitor of the 00s revival in psychedelic rock was also outgrowing his early sound, a monomaniacal stoner guitar fuzz. Parker embraced the expansive possibilities of electronics, of the dancefloor, of popularity. The mainstream, it turned out, was in a similar headspace: riding an uptown funk renaissance, high on weird production and flirting shamelessly with soft rock. Continue reading…

Moses Boyd: Dark Matter review – dancefloor-friendly jazz from UK drummer

by Ammar Kalia on 14th February 2020 at 10:30 am (Exodus)He’s known as a jazz stalwart but this album brings Boyd’s nuanced production skills to the fore in artfully spliced, stylish tracksDrummer Moses Boyd has always been a difficult musician to pin down. Half of the fiercely propulsive free jazz duo Binker and Moses, he was heralded as a poster boy of the London jazz revival when they won a Mobo for best jazz act in 2015. But his first solo offering, 2016’s Rye Lane Shuffle, was a dancefloor-focused 12-inch that was closer to the jazz-inflected house of Theo Parrish than any regular improvised setup. Continue reading…

Nathaniel Rateliff: And It’s Still Alright review – a mixed bag of Americana

by Michael Hann on 14th February 2020 at 10:00 am (Stax)The rock journeyman goes it alone with a grief-imbued album that treads a thin line between meaningless and profoundNathaniel Rateliff had been around the houses before people started taking notice: an album apiece with Lost in the Flood and his own group, the Wheel, and two solo albums. Then, with nothing left at stake, he formed the Night Sweats and started recreating the sound of vintage southern soul, and people really did start taking notice: SOB, an irresistible drinking song about problem drinking, will doubtless haunt him for the rest of his life. Continue reading…

Katie Gately: Loom review – nightmarish orchestrated despair

by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 14th February 2020 at 9:30 am (Houndstooth)Earthquakes, shovels and screaming peacocks are all sampled in a bombastic and occasionally ingenious album A nail-bomb of grief explodes in this second album by US musician Katie Gately, trauma seeming to rip open its edges. It was written while her mother was dying from a rare form of cancer; the title suggests this horror looming into her life, but also somewhere she can thread it together and tie it down. Related: Katie Gately: ‘I’m a pretty diehard Billy Joel fan’ Continue reading…

 

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