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Album reviews from The Guardian music – March 2019

Album reviews from The Guardian music – March 2019
Album reviews
  • Karen O and Danger Mouse: Lux Prima review – soul-pop sass meets funk

    by Kitty Empire on 17th March 2019 at 8:15 am (BMG)The last time Karen Orzolek made a record without the rest of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it was a set of very lo-fi bedroom recordings about love, written about a decade earlier: 2014’s Crush Songs. This time, the frontwoman has teamed up with Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, an artist/producer operating across rock and hip-hop. He was in Gnarls Barkley with CeeLo Green, and produces everyone from the Black Keys to Adele.Orzolek, a former punk bawler whose airy falsetto is uppermost here, and Burton – a jack-of-all-trades with a retro mien – meet most naturally in the 60s. Continue reading… […]

  • Kathryn Tickell and the Darkening: Hollowbone review – a clever shape-shifter of a record

    by Neil Spencer on 17th March 2019 at 8:00 am (Resilient)No one has evoked the landscape and traditions of Northumbria more affectingly than Kathryn Tickell; a champion of the Northumbrian pipes, she is steeped in the songs and mythology of the north-east. Although she has issued more than a dozen albums since her 1984 debut, her dedication finds fresh inspiration and expression on Hollowbone, which mixes pipes and fiddles with mandolin, synth and accordion, and leans towards songs and vocals. It’s a clever shape-shifter of a record, founded on an exceptional five-piece band but unafraid to veer into a cappella voices and ambient moods.From tradition come instrumentals such as Morpeth and Cockle Bridge alongside Old Stones, Tickell’s homage to Lindisfarne, one part reflective and eerie, one part wild jig. Oldest of all is Nemesis, a piece handed down from Emperor Hadrian’s favourite musician, with its tribute to the “dark-eyed daughter of justice” reshaped for modern times. There’s an old mining song in geordie dialect, Colliers, an antique rhyme, Aboot the Bush, suffused in synth and fractured rhythm and a poem from Tickell’s father, Holywell Pool, delivered like an incantation by female harmonies. A hollowbone is apparently a shamanic instrument for channelling ancient voices; a perfect title. Continue reading… […]

  • Stephen Malkmus: Groove Denied review – stark, forbidding soundscapes

    by Phil Mongredien on 17th March 2019 at 8:00 am (Domino)With a couple of honourable exceptions – specifically his self-titled 2001 solo debut and last year’s excellent Sparkle Hard – Stephen Malkmus has too often during his post-Pavement career found himself bogged down in amorphous, sub-Grateful Dead jams. Indeed, Frank Black aside, it’s hard to think of a solo canon that’s been quite so consistently underwhelming. Which makes this long-delayed adventure in electronica such a surprise. In fact, it’s such a radical departure that his record label initially refused to release it – hence the title. Largely written in Berlin and recorded alone at home in Oregon, its stark and forbidding soundscapes owe much to the early-80s synth movement, the likes of opener Belziger Faceplant far more concerned with texture than melody; the deadpan A Bit Wilder, meanwhile, could be a mechanically recovered New Order offcut, circa 1981. Curiously, this bold new direction isn’t sustained; the further into the album Malkmus gets, the more normal service resumes, as if he isn’t entirely convinced of his new direction. Forget Your Place’s loops and treated vocals recall the Beta Band at their wooziest; Come Get Me sounds like a flab-free demo version of one of his Jicks songs; Ocean of Revenge, for all its flirtation with drum machines, is an unashamedly lovely acoustic ballad. It doesn’t make for a particularly cohesive album, but perhaps that’s the point. Continue reading… […]

  • Home listening: Iestyn Davies, Fretwork and the Hebrides Ensemble

    by Fiona Maddocks on 17th March 2019 at 8:00 am There are no ifs about Davies and Fretwork’s pairing of Nyman and Purcell. And on the frontline with Nigel Osborne• The British countertenor Iestyn Davies has always extended the expected boundaries of his voice type, singing contemporary works written for him by Nico Muhly and Thomas Adès and now Michael Nyman. The album If (Signum Classics) is a fresh and delicate collaboration with the excellent viol group Fretwork, as versatile in their own way as Davies. Songs by Purcell are set alongside those by Nyman, long associated with the music of 17th-century England through his soundtrack for The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982). Purcell’s Evening Hymn showcase Davies’s famed vocal purity, but so too does the exquisite title song, Nyman’s If, from the soundtrack to 1995 Japanese animation The Diary of Anne Frank. Nyman’s extended energetic instrumental piece Music After a While is an imaginative foil to Purcell’s ethereal Music for a While. Anyone who thinks Nyman’s music stops at his hallmark pulsing rhythms and prominent bass lines will find variety and introspective beauty here, all executed with perfection. Continue reading… […]

  • The Cinematic Orchestra: To Believe review – heartbreakingly brilliant

    by Damien Morris on 17th March 2019 at 7:45 am (Ninja Tune)I’ve always found the Cinematic Orchestra too pretentious, too austere, a band whose ambitions outran their abilities. With this fourth album, 12 years after their last, that austerity is over. To Believe is heartbreakingly brilliant: a collection of exquisitely assembled songs that appear delicate from a distance before revealing a close-quarters core strength. Band leaders Jason Swinscoe and Dominic Smith have loosely arranged seven lightly jazzy tracks around the themes of belief and what it means to believe. Much as the pair attempt to make movies with their music, the best song has no dialogue: the meandering instrumental Lessons is a glorious balm, nine minutes of murmuring conversation between the players, dominated by Luke Flowers’ gently military drums. It has depth and meaning without context, the ideal soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist. The sweeping grandeur of A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life is another cinematic collaboration with the always articulate and engaging Roots Manuva, a sort-of sequel to the epic All Things to All Men, and just as good. Every song here could easily be five or 10 minutes longer. A triumph. Continue reading… […]

  • Shy FX: Raggamuffin SoundTape review – drum’n’bass pioneer’s wide-ranging return bangs every drum

    by Dave Simpson on 15th March 2019 at 10:30 am (Cult.ure/Warner Bros) From club bangers to ragga to troubled soul, not to mention Cara Delevingne, this is a picture of an artist of many moods – and friendsTwenty-five years after Andre Williams, AKA Shy FX, released the widely sampled pioneering jungle track Original Nuttah, he feels that the long-awaited Raggamuffin SoundTape represents him as an artist. It certainly paints a picture of a man of many moods and friends, careering from guests known and unknown through a range of styles, from jungle to ragga to dancehall to R&B to soul. Opener Call Me features Maverick Sabre singing on a track that brings beautifully troubled soul in the vein of Marvin Gaye to drum’n’bass. The horns-blasting Carnival Culture lives up to its title, while the dancehall-flavoured Raggamuffin has a slightly darker feel (“show disrespect then you die”). Continue reading… […]

  • Chai: Punk review – harebrained gang bring positive pop vibes

    by Laura Snapes on 15th March 2019 at 10:00 am (Heavenly)The Japanese quartet’s second album amplifies the synth-pop and reframes empowerment: it’s a delightEmpowerment has become a dead-eyed concept, more commonly employed to sell women the things that sustain their insecurities in the first place rather than imbuing them with any sense of fortitude. On their second album, Japanese four-piece Chai reclaim the idea and rebuke the industries that appropriated it under the guise of selling hair products and kawaii (cute) beauty standards. They bring to mind the Go-Go’s playing in a vast games arcade: their weapons are aggressive optimism, brawny low-end, harebrained energy and inviting gang vocals that invite anyone who feels the same way to become a “family member” or join them on a “curly adventure”, to list two of the endearing English phrases that leap from their predominantly Japanese lyrics. Continue reading… […]

  • The Cinematic Orchestra: To Believe review – soundscape originators’ accomplished return

    by Rachel Aroesti on 15th March 2019 at 9:30 am (Ninja Tune)The sound of TCO’s tasteful electronica has become ubiquitous. This new album isn’t experimental or idiosyncratic enough to stand outEven if you believe yourself to be unaware of the Cinematic Orchestra, the London collective formed in 1999 by Jason Swinscoe, you will more than likely be familiar with one of their songs. To Build a Home – a spare and exquisitely beautiful piano ballad featuring the Canadian musician Patrick Watson – has become a TV score standard in the decade since its release, soundtracking a slew of blockbuster dramas. Yet while the song’s ethereal melancholy has proven enduring, its makers have dipped out of view in the intervening years. To Build a Home was the opening track on the Cinematic Orchestra’s 2007 record Ma Fleur – until now, the last proper album they released.That makes To Believe a comeback of sorts, an opportunity for the 20-year-old group to restate their relevance. To those ends, Swinscoe has described the album as a contemplation on belief in the age of Brexit. Yet while the verbose track titles hint at lofty ideas, the songs don’t so much pin down and interrogate our modern malaise as transpose it into wilful abstraction. Sonically, meanwhile, the topic leads the group to set up camp in the space between their second and third albums – the former ominous, jazzy, trip-hop-informed; the latter a prettier, more wistful collection of featured-artist crooning. At one end of the spectrum is A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life, which sees the group reunite with Roots Manuva – who guested on their edgy, expansive 2002 track All Things to All Men – for a mellower collaboration. To Believe’s titular opener, a pared-down vehicle for Moses Sumney’s soft, airy and soaring vocal, cleaves most closely to Ma Fleur’s style, but can’t quite recapture its muted majesty. Continue reading… […]

  • Karen O & Danger Mouse: Lux Prima review – complex and lingering

    by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 15th March 2019 at 9:00 am (BMG)The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s frontwoman shines beyond her signature yelp on this cinematic, subtle albumAfter lucratively manning the boards for a series of big pop names in recent years – Red Hot Chili Peppers, Adele, Portugal, The Mancorrect et al – Danger Mouse delivers what feels like more of a passion project. It’s reminiscent of another of these, his 2011 album Rome with composer Daniele Luppi: both are heavily influenced by Ennio Morricone’s compositional style of pattering drumbeats and sweeping strings. His cinematic ambition is foregrounded in the opening title track, a nine-minute symphonic pop suite centred around a theme that is revisited on the closing Nox Lumina, and, truth be told, isn’t particularly exciting. It serviceably denotes grandeur and romance but without any real melodic invention.Where the album comes alive is with more traditional songwriting, anchored by Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O, who co-writes throughout. Her image in the popular imagination – a makeup-smeared sex banshee – does her a disservice: she has huge emotional and textural range, something that the handsome production helps to foreground here. Continue reading… […]

  • Vein/Norrbotten Big Band: Symphonic Bop review – crossover tour de force | John Fordham’s jazz CD of the month

    by John Fordham on 15th March 2019 at 8:30 am (Double Moon) Charismatic Vein join much-feted Norrbotten Big Band for a set of dizzying mashups that will be great liveDespite jazz’s aptitude for pushing the envelope and keeping a finger on the popular pulse at the same time – from inflaming Charleston-kickers in the 1920s, to jivers in the 50s, acid-jazzers in the 90s and rappers today – its adherents still sometimes find themselves fending off complaints of smart-ass elitism. Switzerland’s Vein trio embody the ideal reply to that (because they’re very good at being both impossibly smart-ass and charismatically engaging), and Symphonic Bop joins piano-and-drums siblings Michael and Florian Arbenz and bassist Thomas Lähns with Sweden’s much-feted Norrbotten Big Band. This two-decade-old powerhouse specialises in meeting the challenges of maverick jazz guests, including the UK’s John Surman and Django Bates, so they’re seasoned handlers of Vein’s simultaneous virtue and occasional problem – of knowing how to make a blur of musical scene-changes happen dizzyingly fast without losing the sense of a plot.On five full-ensemble tracks, plus a fast-cornering, Chick Corea-like piece, Vein seamlessly merge their jump-cut methods with sophisticated, classically influenced orchestral scoring (on Florian Arbenz’s 15-minute Boarding the Beat), confirm their delicacy with soft-toned nuances (on the spacey Passacaglia), their languid hipness at juggling jazz hooks and abstract improv (Lähns’ Willi’s Pool), and their exuberant appetite for slamming together old-school swing riffs, boneshaking funk, and shapely free-piano improv at warp speeds (the closing Groove Conductor). Symphonic Bop music might veer a little close to hyperactivity for some – but it’s a crossover tour de force, and would make an enthralling live show, too. Continue reading… […]

  • Barraqúe: Works for Piano review – elusive serialist gets a rare outing | Andrew Clements’ classical CD of the week

    by Andrew Clements on 14th March 2019 at 3:00 pm Jean-Pierre Collot/(Winter & Winter) The French composer – a postwar pupil of Messaien’s – wrote only a handful of works. Collot’s new recording shows his Piano Sonata to be one of the great achievements of serialismWhen Jean Barraqué died suddenly in 1973, at the age of 45, he left a legacy of just seven acknowledged works. A study of 20th-century music, published in 1961, had made enormous claims for his significance, suggesting he would become the greatest composer of the second half of the 20th century, but neither during his lifetime, nor in the almost half a century since, have those claims been reflected in performances of his music, which are rare. Continue reading… […]

  • Dave: Psychodrama review – debut long-player doesn’t disappoint

    by Dan Hancox on 10th March 2019 at 8:00 am (Neighbourhood)South London rapper Dave has been hailed as a prodigious talent since he started rapping in his mid-teens: lyrically inventive, wise beyond his years, politically insightful and emotionally intense without being uncomfortably earnest. The past three years have seen him grow from underground street-freestyling sensation to truly versatile artist. Psychodrama is his debut long-player, following a series of singles and EPs that showed him equally adept at ripping through frantic grime singles, pained memoirs, blissed-out summer anthems and seven-minute-plus reflections on the failings of the political class. Related: Dave: ‘Black is confusing… where does the line start and stop?’ Continue reading… […]

  • Dido: Still on My Mind review – serenely pedestrian

    by Damien Morris on 10th March 2019 at 8:00 am (BMG)It’s something wrong with me, most likely. There’s nothing specifically hateful about Dido’s voice. I just don’t feel any emotional connection with it at all. If you like its aggressive timidity, you’re in luck. There’s plenty here, level and featureless as a really good pavement; Ronseal pop, recorded on the sofa, a weak cup of tea within reach. There have probably been worse songs. The mildly affecting ballad Some Kind of Love would be charming by Saint Etienne, for example, but in Dido’s chill grasp it always feels like a performance, serenely unaffected by feeling. Pop music should be stolen pages from a head-spun diary; this is someone remembering the poem they wrote about a hedge.Still, Dido’s brother – Faithless mastermind Rollo Armstrong – does a solid job with the production. Take You Home’s polite, shuffling beat is very track six, disc two of a 90s chilled house compilation. Yet all Rollo’s ingenious tricks can’t compensate for his sister’s inert contribution. Chances begins “All I did today was wake up and watch TV” then somehow becomes even less interesting than that already maddeningly bland revelation. More boring and pointless than Brexit. Continue reading… […]

  • Sigrid: Sucker Punch review – a wholesome blast of fresh air

    by Emily Mackay on 10th March 2019 at 8:00 am (Island)Though perhaps overmuch critical mileage has been made of young Norwegian Sigrid’s tendency to – gasp – not wear much makeup, it’s hard to deny that in toxic times, the clarity of her fresh-scrubbed sound really is a wholesome blast of fresh air. Strangers is the keynote song of the former BBC Sound Of winner’s debut: winsome melodies, arrestingly authentic lyrics, jagged electro-pop synths arcing into euphoria.Bravely, she’s left off other previous hits – no Plot Twist or the powerhouse High Five – but there’s plenty to match them. The title track has a Robyn-like playfulness, deploying pitch-shifting effects to denote wobbling nerves before romping in with a clean, rushing Max Martin-ish chorus. Even better is Basic, a beautifully millennial supercharged love song of overthinking romantic frustration. Continue reading… […]

  • Home listening: a whole lot of Haydn

    by Nicholas Kenyon on 10th March 2019 at 8:00 am New releases from the Maxwell Quartet and Kristian Bezuidenhout. Plus, the rush hour with In Tune• Joseph Haydn is sometimes regarded as a connoisseur’s composer with too little popular appeal, so it’s a pleasure to welcome two new recordings of his chamber music which I defy anyone not to enjoy. His String Quartets Op 71 of 1793 (Linn) are witty, skilful, and bursting with an energy that Scotland’s Maxwell Quartet capture to the full. Here at the start of each quartet Haydn grabs the audience’s attention – with a bold cadence, a single call to attention, or a brief slow introduction – and then explores the material with a deftness that leaves you smiling. The bare octaves bouncing across the texture in No 2, the cheerful folk dance of the Minuet in No 1, and the hilarious use of sudden quiet staccato notes in No 3 – all are realised with perfect poise.However, it’s a big undersell to simply label this disc as Haydn’s Op 71, for after each of the three quartets the Maxwells add some evocative Scottish folk tunes, providing gentle, wistful punctuations between Haydn’s essays, beautifully serene. The excellent recording helps the quartet to sing resonantly but precisely. Continue reading… […]

  • One to watch: Charlotte Adigéry

    by Tara Joshi on 9th March 2019 at 2:00 pm The Belgian-Caribbean artist mixes up sweet playfulness and brash sounds in a deliciously unpredictable second EPThe music of Belgian-Caribbean artist Charlotte Adigéry brims with imagination. Her leftfield pop is sweet, moreish and deliciously unpredictable, topped with engagingly soft vocals. This is all apparent on her recently released second EP, Zandoli, which references the local name for a type of lizard found in Caribbean households – a nod to her Martinique heritage.The EP showcases DIY, mish-mash sounds, recalling Santigold in its colourful playfulness. Produced by her label bosses Soulwax, it finds Adigéry leaping between subjects and concepts, considering everything from presenting black femininity on High Lights, where she contemplates her array of synthetic wigs over propulsive beats, to cartoonish sex on Cursed and Cussed (“Squeaking leather / skin on skin / latex singing songs of skin”); to whispering intricate loops of Creole on Paténipat. Meanwhile, under her WWWater alias she leans into an experimental, electropunk rabbit-hole, serving up brash, manic sounds reminiscent of Fever Ray; it’s a hard sound that serves as the yin to the yang of the softer, sweeter work under her own name. Continue reading… […]

  • Solange: When I Get Home – the Snapchat album

    by Kate Mossman on 9th March 2019 at 2:00 pm (Columbia) Solange Knowles’s tantalising fourth album conjures fragments and fleeting impressions that get inside your headSolange, younger sister of Beyoncé and the cult hero of the Knowles clan, has made a record that sounds at times like a collection of demos – fleeting impressions of fluid, contemporary soul songs that fizzle out the moment they’re laid down, like a Snapchat album. It’s in keeping with the increasingly avant-garde nature of R&B production today, which can be heard in everyone from Frank Ocean to Ariana Grande: songs feel like sketches; hooks and choruses matter less; and music is conceived, perhaps, with visuals in mind – in the manner of Beyoncé’s Lemonade. This kind of music demands a lot of the listener – short songs are harder on the attention span than long ones. It’s as though Solange is saying: here is a mood, and here is another… but perhaps, with our increasingly insular listening habits, a “mood” is exactly what we want our music to be.It’s taken Solange a while to find her sound, but she’s had an interesting life along the way. Once a back-up dancer for Destiny’s Child (she stood in for Kelly Rowland when she broke her toes), she started working on her debut album at 14 and released it in 2002, aged 16. She was married at 17, had a son at 18, and by 2008 was getting a reputation among critics as the interesting sister: her second album, Sol-Angel and the Hadley St Dreams, was a slash of psychedelic noughties Motown. She entered many people’s consciousness after the eerie “elevator incident” in which she was caught on murky CCTV attacking Jay-Z, as a docile Beyoncé stood by. The viral clip upped Solange’s album streams by 200%, but her career route has never been clear cut: she once released a track called Fuck the Industry (Signed Sincerely) – before A Seat at the Table, her third album, went to No 1 in 2016, just six months after Lemonade. Related: Best albums of 2016: No 5 A Seat at the Table by Solange Continue reading… […]

  • Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul review – intuitive classic jazz

    by Dave Gelly on 9th March 2019 at 8:00 am (Okeh)There aren’t many things in and around music that Branford Marsalis hasn’t done. He’s performed saxophone concertos with symphony orchestras, led the band on America’s favourite late-night TV show, toured with Sting, and made albums with everyone from Harry Connick Jr to the Grateful Dead. But the thing he has held closest and nurtured for the past 30-odd years is his quartet. He finds the classic jazz format of saxophone, piano, bass and drums an endless source of inspiration and, over the years, the quartet has developed a kind of group mind. “I couldn’t create this music with people I didn’t know,” Marsalis says.In fact, only one of these seven numbers is his composition, a piece that moves from quiet contemplation to wild animation and back again. There are two each by bassist Eric Revis and pianist Joey Calderazzo, plus a couple borrowed from Andrew Hill and Keith Jarrett. They all seem to bear a kind of family resemblance. Although the form is quite free, each instrumental voice is clearly defined and purposeful. Marsalis and Calderazzo play together with exceptional delicacy and the technique all round is quite stunning. Continue reading… […]

  • Sigrid: Sucker Punch review – potential pop rebel plays safe

    by Rachel Aroesti on 8th March 2019 at 10:30 am (Island Records) In 2017, Sigrid Raabe made instantaneous waves with her debut single, Don’t Kill My Vibe. A piece of precision-tooled Scandipop, it saw the Norwegian singer decry patronising male influence in the music industry via a whooping falsetto, bombastic 80s drums and a tapestry of chattering synths. Continue reading… […]

  • Juice WRLD: Death Race for Love review – emo-rap headed straight for gen Z

    by Kate Hutchinson on 8th March 2019 at 10:00 am (Grade A/Interscope)Is this the most pop emo-rap album so far? There’s relatable pain and heartbreak but violence and misogyny seep outEmo-rap hasn’t exactly won awards for its image in its short few years on earth. It quickly got massive and then, just as quickly, became embroiled in scandal. You can tell its artists by their face tattoos, rainbow hairstyles and prescription drug-inspired names; also by their premature deaths (Lil Peep), alleged felonies (Tekashi 6ix9ine) or both (XXXTentacion). Continue reading… […]


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