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Album reviews June 2020

Album reviews June 2020
Album reviews

Jessie Ware: What’s Your Pleasure? review – rooted in lustful disco

by Tara Joshi on 28th June 2020 at 2:00 pm (Virgin)The singer-songwriter swaps luxe pop for the energy of the dancefloor on her heady fourth albumJessie Ware emerged in 2010, lending her silken vocals to electro producer SBTRKT. A solo career followed but, while the London singer-songwriter’s first three albums contained garage inflections, the focus was on luxe pop. In the years since her last set, 2017’s Glasshouse, she has had her second child and started a food podcast with her mum – but album number four doesn’t champion domesticity. Featuring credits from the likes of Metronomy’s Joe Mount and producer/songwriter Kindness, What’s Your Pleasure is full of dancefloor energy instead, with careening strings, uplifting percussion and spiky licks of synth and guitar. Mirage (Don’t Stop) is slinky and seductive (“I know I said it before, but you can do what you want”, Ware croons over sleek bass), while the title track and the glorious Ooh La La bask in the glow of a fun night out. Heady and rooted in lustful disco, this album proves that the singer is a cornerstone of contemporary pop.

Haim: Women in Music Pt III review – a cathartic walk on the blue side of life

by Laura Snapes on 26th June 2020 at 8:00 am (Columbia)The three sisters switch into melancholy for this richly searching, explosively produced third albumOn Haim’s third album, frontwoman Danielle drives endlessly around LA, away from a shaky relationship and her own malaise, sometimes towards illicit desire but mostly to nowhere at all. “Woke up at the wheel on the edge of town / It all looked the same every mile / Screaming every word of Both Sides Now,” she mutters over the stonewashed, slippery beat of I Know Alone. Related: Haim: ‘We can go toe-to-toe with any male rock band and blow them out of water’

Sports Team: Deep Down Happy review – debut album with plenty to say

by Phil Mongredien on 21st June 2020 at 2:00 pm (Island)This six-piece band marry Britpop sensibilities with a US alt-rock soundWith an eloquence you’d hope for from a band made up of Cambridge graduates and an old-school penchant for slagging off their indie peers, London-based six-piece Sports Team have long given good interview. Pleasingly, their debut album suggests there’s enough musical substance to back up their fighting talk. Sharply observational lyrics skewering the mores of suburbia and middle England inevitably evoke the less boorish end of the Britpop spectrum. But where the Pulp and Blur of that era always sounded quintessentially British, Deep Down Happy more often takes its musical cues from US alt-rock, most notably the off-kilter melodies of Pavement and the boisterousness of Parquet Courts.Opener Lander sets the tone, Rob Knaggs’s ever-shifting guitar lines supporting frontman Alex Rice’s Sprechgesang stream-of-consciousness (“I wanna be a lawyer/ Or someone who hunts foxes”). Going Soft, meanwhile, struts like Franz Ferdinand in their mid-00s pomp, while Fishing just sounds uncomplicatedly joyful. They don’t manage to sustain the invention throughout the 12 songs: The portrait of an opinionated older man in The Races relies too heavily on stereotype and comes across like the final iteration in a series of progressively worse photocopies of Blur’s Charmless Man. Meanwhile, referencing Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore’s marriage (on Kutcher) has little to say about the world today.

John Legend: Bigger Love – synths, snogging and schmaltz

by Alim Kheraj on 19th June 2020 at 8:00 am (Columbia)After his sixth album’s foray into the complexity of relationships, the syrupy singer’s seventh reverts to saccharine crooning, in praise of his wifeWith 2016’s Darkness and Light, John Legend seemed ready to address the thorny side of love. Shifting from the syrupy, wedding-ready love songs that have defined his career, he tackled romance as a force to be negotiated with. Yet the results of that reckoning are missing from his seventh album, Bigger Love. If anything, Legend’s brush with bleakness has caused an overcompensation of amatory devotionals.

by Phil Mongredien on 14th June 2020 at 2:00 pm (Thrill Jockey)One-man band Ripley Johnson casts an unashamedly sunny eight-song spell As frontman of San Francisco psyche-rockers Wooden Shjips and one half of the more Krautrock-influenced Moon Duo (with partner Sanae Yamada), Ripley Johnson has been responsible for some of the past decade’s most mesmeric and beguiling albums. Yet his second LP as Rose City Band (he plays everything except drums, where John Jeffrey helps out) might be the best of the bunch. Owing much to 1970s country rock, RCB’s signature sound is essentially the same as Wooden Shjips’s, only with their defining fuzzed-up guitars stripped away to reveal warm, lazily blissed-out songs underpinned by relentless motorik rhythms.There are echoes of the Byrds’ I Wasn’t Born to Follow (Only Lonely) and the restless momentum of Dylan circa Highway 61 Revisited (Real Long Gone). But for the most part these eight songs stand on their own merits, unfurling unhurriedly with Johnson’s understated vocals offset by gently spiralling guitar lines that are as hypnotic as they are breezy – never more so than on the closing sprawl of Wee Hours seguing seamlessly into Wildflowers. In an increasingly fraught world, it’s an unashamedly sunny sound. It makes for a gorgeous record in which to lose yourself for 40 minutes.

Bessie Jones: Get in Union review – 60 songs straight from the gut and heart

by Jude Rogers on 19th June 2020 at 9:00 am

(Alan Lomax Archive)This remastered set of Jones’s recordings with the Georgia Sea Island Singers richly celebrates a traditional vocalist of key historical importanceA woman from a small farming community in the state of Georgia, Bessie Jones was one of the most important traditional singers of the mid-20th century. Her accordion-playing grandfather, Jet Sampson, was enslaved as a child before the American civil war. He lived to 105 and taught her the songs of his times, which Jones was so determined to share with future generations that she travelled 1,000 miles to ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax’s New York flat in 1961 and told him to record her.

Neil Young: Homegrown review – desolate lost breakup album

by Neil Spencer on 20th June 2020 at 3:00 pm (Reprise)Young’s ditched 1975 album, featuring seven unheard tracks, is one for completists only“Lost” albums have usually been mislaid for good reason; they simply aren’t up to scratch (Springsteen’s electrified Nebraska) or have collapsed under their own pretensions (Pink Floyd’s Household Objects). Scrapped on the eve of its 1975 release, Homegrown has long held a fabled place in the swollen volumes of Neil Young folklore, the missing link to turn his mid-70s “doom trilogy” (Time Fades Away, On the Beach, Tonight’s the Night) into a quartet. Homegrown turns out to be a lesser creation than the latter two albums. It shares their unpolished production and lyrical desolation – Young and actor Carrie Snodgress had just broken up, a year after their son was born – but lacks their cohesion and wider disillusion with the hippie dream. Moreover, some of its best songs – Star of Bethlehem, Little Wing – have already seen release on other records. Of the seven unheard cuts, four are short, acoustic love calls. Separate Ways and Try are wounded but tender breakup songs, Kansas a gentle reflection on a one-night stand. An unremarkable band blues and an unlistenable finger-on-wineglass affair contribute little to an album that’s well-found but, like much of Young’s recent output, for the committed.

Bob Dylan: Rough and Rowdy Ways review – enthralling, mischievous – and very male

by Kitty Empire on 20th June 2020 at 1:00 pm (Columbia)Dylan’s erudite new album contains multitudes. Is it a last boomer hurrah?Greatness is often contested territory. Rough and Rowdy Ways, Bob Dylan’s 39th studio album, is awash with pre-eminence, both in its actual and its more unstable forms.“I’m the first among equals, second to none,” harrumphs Dylan mischievously on False Prophet, one of three excellent songs that trailed this album. A roguish twinkle in his eye, Dylan is very much flirting with his own status as the marquee bard of the 20th century here, the kind of guy who can’t quite break the internet, but just slow it down a mite when he puts out a new song.When women’s names appear, very often they are the fictional creations of men: Mary Lou, Miss Pearl Related: Bob Dylan: where to start in his back catalogue

Norah Jones: Pick Me Up Off the Floor review – steel amid the smokiest of blues

by Damien Morris on 21st June 2020 at 12:00 pm (Virgin EMI/Blue Note)Jones is as melodious as ever, but can’t smooth over everything…One reliable lockdown pleasure has been Norah Jones’s performances “for anyone who wants to listen”. Unflashy and sensibly short, she plays piano requests, covers or demos, while streams of fans thank “Nojo” for being there for them. You’ll see a lot of the words “healing”, “calming” and “peace”. Related: Norah Jones: ‘I worried about being swallowed up by success’

Phoebe Bridgers: Punisher review – from the heart

by Kitty Empire on 21st June 2020 at 8:00 am (Dead Oceans)The LA songsmith’s second album doesn’t disappoint‘The doctor put her hands over my liver,” sings Phoebe Bridgers on Garden Song. “She told me my resentment’s getting smaller.” Arresting lyrics such as these have catapulted this 25-year-old LA singer-songwriter to the forefront of a wave of millennial songsmiths, informed in part by Laurel Canyon, in part by indie rock and – especially for Bridgers – the whispered urgency of the late Elliott Smith.Bridgers’s second album under her own name, Punisher moves forward confidently from her 2017 debut, Stranger in the Alps – an accomplished set that, in part, digested her vexed relationship with the disgraced Americana artist Ryan Adams. Across Punisher’s 11 tracks, matters of the heart recur – the none-more-90s cut I See You discusses Bridgers’s feelings for her drummer ex – but her deceptively lovely treatments range widely, taking in the disappointments of touring on Kyoto and I Know the End, or saltines and serotonin on Graceland Too. The excellent Halloween channels Smith most audibly, but the song’s gently plucked meditations and quavery anomie are all Bridgers’s own.

Dirty Projectors: Flight Tower EP

by Will Gottsegen on 2nd July 2020 at 5:00 am Dirty Projectors are once again a group effort. Their new EP is helmed by singer Felicia Douglass, whose smooth voice is an antidote to the unrelenting weirdness of Dave Longstreth’s arrangements.

Gordi: Our Two Skins

by Hannah Jocelyn on 2nd July 2020 at 5:00 am On her sparse and riveting second album, the singer-songwriter examines the personal cost of embracing difficult emotional truths.

Chloe x Halle: Ungodly Hour

by Alphonse Pierre on 2nd July 2020 at 5:00 am On the slinky follow-up to their carefree debut, the R&B sisters take greater risks with their production and their writing.

Redd Kross: Red Cross EP / Phaseshifter / Show World

by Robert Ham on 2nd July 2020 at 5:00 am A trio of reissues from Merge and Third Man capture the L.A. punk veterans at two very different points in their career, tracking their growth from scrappy dilettantes to swaggering glam rockers.

Skee Mask: ISS005 / ISS006

by Philip Sherburne on 1st July 2020 at 5:00 am A pair of new EPs splits the German producer’s work down the middle: ISS005 is reserved strictly for big, bruising club tracks, while ISS006 trades the drums for pure, beatless ambient.

Country Westerns: Country Westerns

by Allison Hussey on 1st July 2020 at 5:00 am This world-weary garage-rock trio’s music is tailor-made for a pre-pandemic era of basement shows.

Hum: Inlet

by Ian Cohen on 1st July 2020 at 5:00 am The inscrutable shoegaze legends return with a towering reunion album, their first in 22 years. Unexpectedly, it is their most emotionally accessible music yet.

Dan Drohan: You’re a Crusher / drocan!

by Dave Segal on 1st July 2020 at 5:00 am The Massachusetts-based drummer and producer buries pop music in experimental chaos using studio wizardry and a deft compositional touch.

Arca: KiCk i

by Chal Ravens on 30th June 2020 at 5:00 am On the first album of a four-part series, the Venezuelan-born, Barcelona-based artist offers her most accessible music to date, channeling her signature sounds into sharply focused avant-pop.

Albert Ayler: New Grass

by Fred Thomas on 30th June 2020 at 5:00 am The tenor saxophonist’s beguiling and divisive 1969 album attempted to cross-wire free jazz with rock, funk, and soul. It remains his most misunderstood record.

G-Eazy: Everything’s Strange Here

by Dani Blum on 30th June 2020 at 5:00 am The Oakland rapper’s quarantine album is meant to portray a radically different artist. More often, he just finds new ways to telegraph the same stories he’s told all along.

Honey Radar: Sing the Snow Away: The Chunklet Years

by Marc Masters on 30th June 2020 at 5:00 am A collection of catchy, lo-fi 7″s on Athens’ Chunklet shows off the Philadelphia musician Jason Henn’s bedroom-pop prowess and surreal, often funny songwriting.

James Krivchenia: A New Found Relaxation

by Daniel Felsenthal on 29th June 2020 at 5:00 am The Big Thief drummer excels at creating ambient worlds, and his second release under his own name evokes the spine-tingling sensations of ASMR as well as a persistent anxiety.

Jessie Ware: What’s Your Pleasure?

by Owen Myers on 29th June 2020 at 5:00 am On her disco-inspired new album, Ware sounds bolder, looser — and frankly, more fun — than she has in a near-decade.

박혜진 Park Hye Jin: How can I

by Ben Cardew on 29th June 2020 at 5:00 am On her second EP, the South Korean producer branches out from the house music of her debut, touching upon juke, trap, and techno while sing-rapping in a mixture of English and Korean.

Quin Kirchner: The Shadows and the Light

by Jonathan Williger on 29th June 2020 at 5:00 am The outstanding Chicago-based drummer incorporates ideas from the city’s iconic forebears and ever-evolving jazz scene into his own fluid style.

Various Artists: Pure Moods, Vol. 1

by Mina Tavakoli on 28th June 2020 at 5:00 am Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the famous ’90s compilation that bottled the essence of commercial new age music.

MIKE: Weight of the World

by Reed Jackson on 27th June 2020 at 5:00 am On his wonderful and grief-stricken new album, the Bronx rapper pays tribute to his late mother and proves that his voice grows stronger even in sorrow.

Hiroshi Yoshimura: GREEN

by Philip Sherburne on 27th June 2020 at 5:00 am The Japanese ambient pioneer’s well-deserved revival continues with a reissue of this 1986 cult classic, which feels like an inviting frame in which to project your own feelings.


by Mankaprr Conteh on 26th June 2020 at 5:00 am Named in honor of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Minneapolis-based musician’s shadowy EP is an imaginative investigation of religious and sexual tensions.

Zachary Cale: False Spring

by Sam Sodomsky on 26th June 2020 at 5:00 am Returning after a five-year absence, the Brooklyn musician slots into a tradition of cryptic, pastoral singer-songwriters; more than his lyrics, it’s the peaceful mood-setting that stands out.

Remo Drive: A Portrait of an Ugly Man

by Evan Rytlewski on 26th June 2020 at 5:00 am The Minneapolis emo band broke through in 2017 with a giddy pop-punk sound; two albums later, they are taking bigger chances but falling flatter.

Khruangbin: Mordechai

by Andy Cush on 26th June 2020 at 5:00 am On their third album, the dubby band’s feel for a groove remains intact, but they often render vibrant sounds from all over the world as impeccably stylish mood music.

Nadine Shah: Kitchen Sink

by Ben Hewitt on 25th June 2020 at 5:00 am The best songs on the singer-songwriter’s excellent fourth album invoke the surreal melodramas of Björk and the wry social commentary of Pulp.

Gia Margaret: Mia Gargaret

by Quinn Moreland on 25th June 2020 at 5:00 am Following the loss of her voice while out on tour, the Chicago singer-songwriter turned to her synthesizers as she recuperated, building loops out of glowing, meditative tones.

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