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Album Reviews July 2020

Album Reviews July 2020
Album reviews

Glass Animals: Dreamland review – technicolour pop shaded with pain

by Aimee Cliff on 7th August 2020 at 8:00 am (Polydor)Trauma has triggered a more inward-looking exploration of the Oxford quartet’s grandstanding, hallucinogenic soundDave Bayley, frontman of Oxford psych-pop quartet Glass Animals, has always embraced the fantastical. The group’s debut set Lewis Carroll-worthy lyrics over R&B production, while their follow-up – 2016’s How to Be a Human Being, the album that turned them into Radio 1 stars and Mercury nominees – filtered other people’s life stories through Bayley’s technicolour imagination. But the very end of that record marked a shift, with the quiet ballad Agnes exploring his own experience of grief. Following that album, the band experienced a collective trauma when their drummer, Joe Seaward, suffered a near-fatal brain injury. As he began his long recovery, his bandmates started to dig deeper than ever before. Continue reading…

Giacinto Scelsi: String Trio review | John Lewis’s contemporary album of the month

by John Lewis on 7th August 2020 at 7:30 am London Contemporary Orchestra(SA Recordings)Scelsi, writing in the 1930s, influenced Ennio Morricone, using microtonal variations on a single note to make revelatory musicWhen I interviewed him in his Rome studio nearly 20 years ago, Ennio Morricone was generous in praise of his heroes, declaring his undying love for John Cage, Burt Bacharach and the AS Roma striker Francesco Totti. He also mentioned a more obscure idol: an Italian composer called Giacinto Scelsi. “I learned from him that a single note can be beautiful and shocking,” he told me. “And that, by repeating that note, in slightly different ways, you can do more than playing something complicated.” Continue reading…

Charli XCX to Taylor Swift: 10 of the best albums made in lockdown

by Michael Cragg on 7th August 2020 at 7:00 am Anxiety, escapism and noise complaints from neighbours all feature in the work musicians have created while house-bound Related: The Guide: Staying In – sign up for our home entertainment tips Continue reading…

Ethel Smyth: The Prison review | Erica Jeal’s classical album of the week

by Erica Jeal on 6th August 2020 at 2:19 pm Brailey/Burton/Experiential Chorus and Orchestra/Blachly(Chandos)A long overdue first recording for this work by the one-time imprisoned suffragette, detailing the spiritual awakening of a condemned manEthel Smyth was unusual among composers in being able to write a work called The Prison from a position of experience, but her weeks in Holloway as a time-serving suffragette were long past by 1930, when, aged 72 and increasingly deaf, she finished this “symphony for soprano, bass-baritone, chorus and orchestra”. The words are by HB Brewster, who had been Smyth’s close friend and, perhaps, her lover; they take the form of a dialogue between an innocent prisoner awaiting execution and his soul, sung by a soprano, who is able to guide him towards spiritual peace. Related: Dame Ethel Smyth: Mass in D review | Erica Jeal’s classical album of the week Continue reading…

Victoria Monét: Jaguar review | Album of the week

by Alim Kheraj on 6th August 2020 at 11:16 am (Tribe)This is no lunge for the mainstream from the Ariana Grande songwriter, but an assured, inventive exploration of autonomyTraditionally, the jump from writers’ room to centre stage has been complicated. The likes of Sia and Pharrell have deftly glided from backroom hitmakers to pop behemoths. Others, such as Keri Hilson and Julia Michaels, have struggled to find their footing in the upper echelons of the charts where their songwriting credits so often appear, instead forging fruitful careers as pop underdogs. Nine years into his career as a solo artist, the UK’s MNEK finally scored his first No 1 last week. Related: Victoria Monét: the Ariana Grande songwriter making bed-quaking R&B Continue reading…

Brandy: B7 review – back on her own terms

by Kadish Morris on 2nd August 2020 at 2:00 pm (Brand Nu, Inc)The familiar acrobatic vocals and sublime harmonies are there, but the R&B star’s first album in eight years is not all about nostalgia…It’s been eight years since Brandy’s last album – forgivable for someone who’s “been an original since 1994”, as she boasts on I Am More on this new one. The R&B singer is such an icon that when you google the phrase “the vocal bible” her picture comes up, all thanks to the supremacy and range of her voice.B7 isn’t exclusively a trip down memory lane, but it does cruise past a few old haunts. Brandy’s trademark raspy vocals and sublime harmonies on Rather Be and Lucid Dreams are nostalgia-inducing for anyone who grew up listening to her acrobatic riffs and runs. Baby Mama featuring Chance the Rapper is a rhapsody to her 18-year old daughter and an anthem for single mothers. “I’m every woman,” she sings, evoking Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston. Continue reading…

Alanis Morissette: Such Pretty Forks in the Road review – back to the confessional

by Phil Mongredien on 2nd August 2020 at 12:00 pm (RCA)The Canadian singer-songwriter’s first album in eight years returns to her strengthsNot many artists live in the shadow of an earlier album to the extent that Alanis Morissette does with 1995’s 33m-selling Jagged Little Pill. It’s certainly telling that the coronavirus-scuppered live dates that had been booked for this year were being touted as that record’s 25th anniversary tour, her first album in eight years seemingly not worthy of promotion. And yet Such Pretty Forks in the Road doesn’t deserve to have been so completely glossed over.Yes, musically, these songs – all co-written with former Morrissey sideman Michael Farrell –are for the most part her stock-in-trade windswept power ballads and unremarkable soft rock. But while there’s nothing as thrillingly angry as You Oughta Know, it’s a far more palatable set than 2012’s insipid Havoc and Bright Lights. That’s in part because while that album was so full of psychobabbling, spiritual guff it could have made Gwyneth Paltrow choke on her vagina-scented candles, this time around Morissette has returned to the confessional writing style that defined her earlier work. The dramatic Reasons I Drink is as direct as its title, fearlessly tackling alcohol problems and eating disorders. It’s just unfortunate that it has little regard for scansion, syntax or sense. Indeed, her lyrics have long been an achilles heel, and when she sings: “I can’t remember where the sentence started when I’m trying to finish it,” you wonder whether she’s poking fun at herself. On reflection, probably not. Continue reading…

Classical home listening: Beethoven, John Sheppard – and Komitas

by Fiona Maddocks on 1st August 2020 at 11:00 am Paul Lewis delights in Beethoven’s bagatelles. Plus, a reconfigured Media vita and sacred music from Armenia• Suffering from Beethoven anniversary fatigue? The British pianist Paul Lewis has the ideal tonic. His album Für Elise: Bagatelles, Opp 33, 119 & 126 (Harmonia Mundi) brings together the three sets of bagatelles, written across Beethoven’s career. These punchy, gleaming miniatures, hardly unknown – some are popular with amateur players – tend to be overshadowed by the towering piano sonatas, in themselves a lifetime’s listening (as Lewis’s own account has shown).Beethoven referred to the bagatelles as “trifles”, defining their one-movement structure, rather than their musical insignificance: aural sonnets, though without the strict form that comparison might suggest. Each is a model of compression, one lasting a matter of seconds, others barely half a minute. Combining expressive variety and technical ease, Lewis delights in the wit too. Even Für Elise, beaten to death by every would-be and would-not-be learner, becomes tolerable in his hands. Continue reading…

Dominic Fike: What Could Possibly Go Wrong review – Gen Z star surfs genres

by Timi Sotire on 31st July 2020 at 8:00 am (Columbia)Fike’s star is in the ascendant, thanks to a guileless, summery blend of rap, rock and popFew young artists can boast of sparking a label bidding war after releasing their debut EP through Soundcloud, or list the likes of Brockhampton, Billie Eilish and DJ Khaled as fans. Yet Dominic Fike’s beachy, lo-fi blend of rap and soft rock made him an instant star, with his debut single, 3 Nights, going platinum in the US and the UK. Continue reading…

Duma: Duma review – extreme Kenyan metalheads bring doom to the dancefloor

by Ammar Kalia on 31st July 2020 at 7:30 am (Nyege Nyege Tapes)From Nairobi’s metal scene, Martin Kanja and Sam Karugu add techno to doom-laden guitars and distorted vocals on this exciting albumAlongside the burgeoning experimental electronic scene in east Africa is a small but committed underground of metal bands, based in Nairobi. These groups are breathing life into a field hampered by a continued lack of diversity and the preponderance of racist imagery.Duma is released on Nyege Nyege Tapes on 7 August. Continue reading…

Rachmaninov: Preludes, Études-Tableaux, Moments musicaux review | Andrew Clements’s classical album of the week

by Andrew Clements on 30th July 2020 at 2:00 pm Sergei Babayan(Deutsche Grammophon)Babayan’s affinity with Rachmaninov is evident, though his personality shows most in the more substantial piecesThe Armenian-American pianist Sergei Babayan makes his solo debut on Deutsche Grammophon with this Rachmaninov recital. Born in 1961, he’s hardly a newcomer – he’s made a few appearances in the UK, including at the Proms in 2015, when he was one of the soloists in a marathon concert that included all five of Prokofiev’s piano concertos, and at the Wigmore Hall for a two-piano recital with Daniil Trifonov, who studied with Babayan for six years at the Cleveland Institute of Music in Ohio.It’s that connection with the dazzling Trifonov, I suspect, that has encouraged DG to sign up Babayan. Two years ago, he partnered no less than Martha Argerich on a disc of Prokofiev transcriptions for two pianos, but what’s curious about this first solo effort is that the performances date back to 2009, yet apparently have never been issued anywhere before. Continue reading…

Fontaines DC: A Hero’s Death review | Album of the week

by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 30th July 2020 at 11:04 am The Dublin band deliver a difficult but powerful second album full of songwriting that stares life in the faceDo bands have a “difficult second album” or a “difficult third album”? The myth seems to vary. You could argue it’s the fourth or fifth you’ve got to worry about in our attention-deficit culture. Maybe they’re all difficult right now: impossible to tour, marketed in disappearing magazines, played to a world deafened by anger.Whatever way you look at it, the second album from Dublin band Fontaines DC is full of difficulties. This may be surprising. The songs on their 2019 debut Dogrel were populated by characters as vivid as those on the Arctic Monkeys’ debut, and were so good that they reset the bar for mainstream indie-rock bands. The quintet ran up the stairs of a career two at a time, quickly playing pubs, clubs then theatres; London’s vast Alexandra Palace awaits them in 2021. Dogrel was nominated for the Mercury prize, and its songs were improbably added to Radio 1’s poppy playlist. They recorded A Hero’s Death in LA. Related: Fontaines DC: ‘It’s a lie that rock stars don’t care what people think’ Continue reading…

Jimothy Lacoste: The Safeway review – a prodigious debut

by Damien Morris on 26th July 2020 at 2:00 pm (Black Butter)The young Londoner’s hypnotic bedroom rap both wrongfoots and charmsSelf-taught musician Jimothy Lacoste makes bedroom pop that could be Flight of the Conchords satirising the Streets. Quirky and witty, he raps with a studied precision about girls, money and clothes (all good) and drugs (not good). This remarkable debut often sounds like Jimothy loves everything about hip-hop except its music and culture. This is confusing, and some will dismiss him as a middle-class ironist cosplaying a rapper. His intentions would matter less if he wasn’t so prodigiously talented.The 21-year-old Londoner’s deadpan delivery is disarmingly simple, as is his relentless repetition of addictive loops, riffs and melodies, narcotic in their effect. During four years of dropping tracks, Lacoste’s singular style has never changed, but its execution has improved. Getting Remedy is a brutally funky 80s banger, Getting Molly a beautiful evocation of drug comedowns, a regretful drawl from under the duvet. Continue reading…

Jessy Lanza: All the Time review – witching-hour jams

by Emily Mackay on 26th July 2020 at 8:00 am (Hyperdub)The Canadian producer takes a wicked turn in her deliciously offbeat third album Should you ever find yourself pondering what sort of music ghosts play in the wine bars of the underworld, fret not, for Canadian producer Jessy Lanza has been answering your question since 2013. Her first two albums, Pull My Hair Back and 2016’s Oh No, perfected a witching-hours R&B haunted by a rich range of past styles, otherworldly alt-R&B rubbing up against lean club music and Lanza’s playful, gossamer falsetto in spare but compulsive spectral slow jams. Her third album stays close to the formula, though with a slightly darker, starker turn: opener Anyone Around brings together a tight, crisp beat with dubby reverb, hazy, squidgy vintage keys and the sort of cheesy come-on line Lanza does so well: “I never behave when I’m around so close to you.” Face has the nervy tempo of footwork or garage, its seesawing vocal refrain giving it an unnerving bite, while Badly nails a uncanny pirate radio 4am feel, its slinky spareness blossoming into something deliciously just a little off-kilter. None of this is particularly radical in a post-everything musical landscape, but Lanza and her production and writing partner, Jeremy Greenspan of the underrated Junior Boys, do it particularly well, bringing a little of the afterlife’s rewards to the everyday. Continue reading…

Shirley Collins: Heart’s Ease review – unerring brilliance

by Neil Spencer on 25th July 2020 at 3:00 pm (Domino)The veteran singer’s comeback really takes wing with this impeccably judged setEighty one was quite an age for a comeback, but with 2016’s Lodestar – tentatively voiced but with dazzling accompaniment – Shirley Collins reclaimed her place as a doyenne of English folk after an absence of 30-odd years. Heart’s Ease proves a more confident follow-up, with guitarist Ian Kearey again overseeing settings for songs such as Rolling in the Dew and Barbara Allen that Collins first recorded in her 20s.Her tremulous soprano has lost an octave since, but her seasoned tones unerringly read the mood and narrative of material that ranges from the gentle Tell Me True to the stately Whitsun Dance and the exuberant Sweet Greens and Blues, a reprise of a song written by her first husband to celebrate their offspring, and here framed by a dazzling guitar that evokes Bert Jansch and Davey Graham. Related: ‘Our collective imagination could die away’: Stewart Lee and Shirley Collins in conversation Continue reading…

Classical home listening: Mozart, mambo, Miss Julie and more

by Fiona Maddocks on 25th July 2020 at 11:00 am Sarah Willis has a ball in Havana, William Alwyn’s opera grips, and John Wilson and co run riot with Respighi• Cuban musicians have an ability to switch from classical to jazz to salsa with a chameleon versatility the rest of us can only envy. No boundaries, no inhibitions and a sense of rhythm that sets them free. Arming herself with bags of flair and a passion for the country and its music, British horn player Sarah Willis has joined forces with young Cuban colleagues to make an exuberant disc: Mozart y Mambo (Alpha Classics). Willis’s generous musicianship is stamped on this entire project, in which Mozart (the E flat horn concerto, K447, and the single movements K370b and K371) and mambo are gloriously joined at the hip. Continue reading…

Kamaal Williams: Wu Hen review – jazz-soul revivalist’s fitful return

by Ammar Kalia on 24th July 2020 at 8:00 am (Black Focus Records)The London producer is happy to foreground his collaborators on his second solo album, but doesn’t make the most of themComing to prominence in 2016 as one half of jazz duo Yussef Kamaal, producer and pianist Kamaal Williams spearheaded the London-based revival of the genre with his dancefloor-focused take on jazz. Yet with only one record released before the pair’s split in 2017, Williams has since struggled to establish his solo sound without the powerhouse drumming of his former partner Yussef Dayes. Continue reading…

Maria Schneider Orchestra: Data Lords review | John Fordham’s jazz album of the month

by John Fordham on 24th July 2020 at 7:30 am (ArtistShare)The US composer, bandleader and Bowie collaborator protests big tech’s invasion of our lives on this powerful new albumWhen Maria Schneider led her long-running jazz orchestra in a 2015 London performance of that year’s release The Thompson Fields, the great American composer and bandleader confirmed that her scenically spacious, luminously harmonised Gil Evans-inflected music – conjuring up landscapes, birdsong, and a kind of tranquil innocence – was in its exultant prime. But with Data Lords – her new double LP on the crowd-funded ArtistShare label – a steeliness and even bleakness now shares a stage with her familiar pastoral side. A tireless advocate of musicians’ ownership of their work who has taken copyright issues all the way to Congress, Schneider has brought her battle with the corporations and big-tech’s asset-stripping of personal and private spaces into this darker repertoire. (The album is only available for physical or digital purchasing, not streaming.) She also credits work with David Bowie on his song Sue (Or In a Season of Crime) – for which she won one of her five Grammys – for tapping her darker midlife energies. Continue reading…

Taylor Swift: Folklore review – bombastic pop makes way for emotional acuity

by Laura Snapes on 24th July 2020 at 4:00 am Released with little fanfare this move to more muted songwriting is proof Swift’s music can thrive without the celebrity dramaTaylor Swift announced the existence of her eighth album an uncharacteristic 17 hours prior to its release: “Most of the things I had planned this summer didn’t end up happening,” she said – among them, a headline slot at Glastonbury – “But there is something I hadn’t planned on that DID happen.” Swift only released her last album, Lover, last August. If she was surprised to have emerged from lockdown with Folklore – a 16-track album largely produced (remotely) by the National’s Aaron Dessner – her fans were even more stunned by the fact that Swift would release a record with zero fanfare.Swift pioneered the art of the all-consuming album rollout. It usually starts with her sharing coded hints that her well trained fans understand immediately. Then there are teasers for lyric videos that beget actual blockbuster videos, strewn with self-mythologising references for Swifties and journalists to unpick. It’s a smart promotional strategy-by-proxy for an artist who has done little press in the past five years, and a good way of making your actions seem as if they were written in the stars. There are sometimes baffling brand endorsements. The often unpopular lead single seldom sounds like the rest of the album. By the time that arrives, a weariness has descended: the sense that one of pop’s all-time greatest songwriters is overcompensating despite her clear talent. Related: Taylor Swift: ‘I was literally about to break’ Continue reading…

Elgar: Sea Pictures, Falstaff review | Andrew Clements’s classical album of the week

by Andrew Clements on 23rd July 2020 at 2:00 pm Garanča/Staatskapelle Berlin/ Barenboim(Decca)Elina Garanča’s golden tone and Barenboim’s precision are appealing, if they don’t quite find Elgar’s most English musicNo conductor working today has done more to internationalise Elgar’s music than Daniel Barenboim. Like Georg Solti and Bernard Haitink before him, Barenboim has recognised that the best of Elgar’s music deserves to be compared with that of his European contemporaries, and that its roots are often more firmly embedded in Austro-German late Romanticism than they are in the pastoral landscapes of Edwardian England. He made an extensive series of Elgar recordings with the London Philharmonic in the 1970s, but returned to the composer in 2014 with a recording of the Second Symphony, followed two years later by the First. Magnificently played by the Berlin Staatskapelle, with its burnished, dark central European sound, both performances were a revelation, immediately reconnecting Elgar with the composers he most admired, Brahms and Richard Strauss. If Barenboim’s subsequent Berlin recording of The Dream of Gerontius was less exceptional, it still cast fresh light on a staple of the British choral repertoire

 

 

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