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Album reviews – May 2021

Album reviews – May 2021
Album reviews

Kele: The Waves Pt 1 review – all washed up?

by Damien Morris on 30th May 2021 at 2:00 pm (Kola/!K7)It has its moments, but this collection of spoken word, psych folk and instrumental pieces does the Bloc Party frontman few favoursWhy does Kele’s cover of Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy sound so defeated? The towering original is a heady swirl of fear, alienation and yearning, buttressed by the steely, driving determination of its drum machine. It ends in escape, with that galvanising “run away” refrain. Yet the Bloc Party frontman only plays to the song’s fragility, so his self-pitying wallow takes away the rhythm and ends on a tired whimper of “cry boy cry”. It’s the sound of someone tearing up a railcard behind their bedroom door.Its self-indulgence fits well with Okereke’s fifth solo album. Songs of dubious quality sidle in and out, unsure how they should be listened to, or why. There are occasional pleasant interludes and codas, particularly during From a Place of Love and The Patriots. Yet the melange of episodic soundtrack instrumentals, experimental indie psych folk and doomy melodrama is flat and lifeless. When Kele does sing, his magnificently anguished yelp is mostly stilled. There is far too much spoken word. This scattershot approach just about worked on his previous album, 2042, but this has neither its visceral immediacy nor the wild, unhinged invention of what he does best. Continue reading…

Lou Barlow: Reason to Live review – the sound of domestic bliss

by Phil Mongredien on 30th May 2021 at 12:00 pm (Joyful Noise)A warm new contentment becomes the formerly angst-filled lo-fi rockerIt would hardly take a genius to notice the thick vein of heartbreak that has run through Lou Barlow’s career away from Dinosaur Jr, whether in Sebadoh, the Folk Implosion or as a solo artist. As a chronicler of unrequited love and self-lacerating introspection, he has had few peers over the past three decades. But times change and, as anybody lucky enough to have caught last summer’s streamed lockdown shows from his Massachusetts home (with frequent unscripted interruptions from his young daughter) will have noticed, his life now is the very picture of domestic bliss.Far from being a creative hindrance, this change in circumstances suits Barlow’s muse. While many of the songs here differ little stylistically from his lo-fi self-recorded contributions to 1991’s brilliantly sprawling Sebadoh III – it’s largely just his voice and his acoustic guitar – the variation in tone and mood is a definite upgrade. Lead single Love Intervene is refreshingly brisk and upbeat, its underlying message essentially that love is the answer, while Act of Faith sounds positively exultant. Even songs that might once have sounded angstily passive-aggressive (most notably All You People Suck) are now imbued with warmth. It all adds up to a highly pleasing change of direction. Continue reading…

Mustafa: When Smoke Rises review – 21st-century folk meets bereft R&B

by Kitty Empire on 30th May 2021 at 8:00 am (Regent Park Songs)Friends lost to gun violence are memorialised on the Toronto singer-songwriter’s tender debutGrowing up on Toronto’s Regent Park estate, Mustafa Ahmed first turned to poetry to bear witness to his neighbourhood’s difficult stories. After a spell as a songwriter for hire (credits include the Weeknd and Camila Cabello), his eight-track debut album harks back to his own experience and channels the trauma of loved ones lost to gun violence. On the song Ali, he mourns the friend he lost in 2017, and the limitations of his art: “There were no words to stop the bullets.” On Separate, he sings about a cohort “too young to feel this pain”.The 24-year-old’s album arrives with the support of industry figures – Toronto producer Frank Dukes, plus our own Jamie xx and Sampha (the two collaborate on a tender piano track called Capo); James Blake was an early champion and collaborator. But the star here is Mustafa’s own voice. The singer cites Richie Havens as the figure who helped him reconcile the folk idiom with his own background as the child of Sudanese immigrants. Soft and wounded, and bearing the faintest echo of Islamic devotional songs, Mustafa’s delivery hits a bruised place somewhere between 21st-century folk and bereft R&B. Continue reading…

Jim Snidero: Live at the Deer Head Inn review – a glorious sense of swing

by Dave Gelly on 29th May 2021 at 3:00 pm (Savant)Snidero and band take comfort music to the next level in this hugely enjoyable, at times mind-boggling set recorded last yearBelieve it or not, this was recorded last October – live, before an audience (small and wearing masks) at a jazz club in rural Pennsylvania. Jim Snidero, an alto saxophonist I admire for the deceptively easy grace of his style, had not played in public for about seven months, and neither had the other members of his quartet. They play brilliantly here, especially Snidero and pianist Orrin Evans, although the whole performance is, not surprisingly, a bit more intense than usual.The programme consists of eight familiar standards: “comfort music”, according to Snidero. It brings out his perfect taste with ballads, never overdoing the decoration on My Old Flame, and releases the whole band’s glorious sense of swing in faster numbers. Bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth maintain a kind of springy balance that lifts the music so that it seems almost to be floating. I found following Snidero’s sinuous progress through the harmonic outskirts of Bye Bye Blackbird mind-boggling and, at the same time, hugely enjoyable. It’s easy to forget how exciting straight-ahead jazz improvisation on old songs can be, until something like this turns up unexpectedly. Continue reading…

Classical home listening: Kate Lindsey takes on Nero; Herbert Blomstedt conducts Brahms

by Fiona Maddocks on 29th May 2021 at 11:00 am Works inspired by the Roman tyrant burst into life in the latest recording from the mezzo and Arcangelo; and the conductor at 93• The UK-based American mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey, versatile in repertoire from early to ink-still-drying, is skilled at building diverse material into a satisfying theme. Her 2020 album Arianna explored the abandonment of Ariadne by Theseus. Her latest, Tiranno, with Arcangelo conducted by Jonathan Cohen (Alpha Classics), examines tyranny and oppression through the figure of the Roman emperor Nero.In addition to Handel’s turbulent dramatic monologue Agrippina condotta a morire, and Alessandro Scarlatti’s Il Nerone, two works are given premiere recordings: Bartolomeo Monari’s La Poppea and Scarlatti’s La morte di Nerone. The exchange between Nero and Lucan (tenor Andrew Staples) from Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea is a particular highlight. Emperor and poet spin whispered, ever more erotic lines in drooling celebration of love. The players of Arcangelo deftly match their subtle colours. In the celebrated duet Pur ti miro, Lindsey is joined by the rising-star soprano Nardus Williams as Poppea, both pressing the dissonant harmonies almost to a point of distortion, to expressive and ecstatic effect. Continue reading…

Black Midi: Cavalcade review – freakish parade of prog-jazz extremity

by Tayyab Amin on 28th May 2021 at 8:00 am (Rough Trade)There’s a impressive maelstrom of moods on the Mercury nominees’ new album, building to a fantastical, absurdist wholeExperimental rock group Black Midi’s origin story involves meeting at the Brit School, being championed by the industry and then thrust along the faultline between hype and scepticism: their explosive 2019 debut Schlagenheim was praised and scrutinised for featuring the same aesthetics of noise, no wave and post-punk found in abundance among UK DIY acts. On their second album, they shift focus to their abilities, swapping jam sessions for a more deliberate, compositional approach. They slip prog and jazz into its sludgy sonics as they tell stories spanning despair, delirium and destruction through a fantastical and absurdist lens. Continue reading…

Mabe Fratti: Será Que Ahora Podremos Entendernos? review | Ammar Kalia’s global album of the month

by Ammar Kalia on 28th May 2021 at 7:30 am (Unheard of Hope Records)Living in a Mexican artist community has led to fruitful collaborations for the Guatemalan musician, using the sound of birds and animals alongside varied instrumentationWith most of the world swiftly entering lockdown in early 2020, few of us could say we had found ourselves in the right place at the right time. Yet musical connections led the Guatemalan cellist and composer Mabe Fratti to quarantine in the artist compound La Orduña, outside Mexico City. It proved to be exactly where she needed to be to compose her second album, Será Que Ahora Podremos Entendernos? (Will We be Able to Understand Each Other Now?). Continue reading…

Heart & Hereafter: Songs of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor | Erica Jeal’s classical album of the week

by Erica Jeal on 27th May 2021 at 2:00 pm Elizabeth Llewellyn/Simon Lepper(Orchid Classics)The soprano’s debut, singing 25 songs by the mixed-race Victorian composer, is a delight – she and pianist Lepper really mine their essence“I could have recorded some Puccini or Verdi”, writes Elizabeth Llewellyn – and that would have been the obvious choice for the debut recital recording from a soprano so much at home on the operatic stage. Instead, she and the pianist Simon Lepper give us 25 little discoveries, songs from the extensive but little-known output of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Related: Lenny Henry: ‘Classical music belongs to us all. Just look at Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’ Continue reading…

DMX: Exodus review – a bold and bleak posthumous finale

by Alexis Petridis on 27th May 2021 at 12:24 pm (Def Jam Recordings)The New York rapper, who died in April, is strong and unsettling over grimy, atonal production, with guest turns from Alicia Keys, Jay-Z and BonoHip-hop loves a posthumous album, but DMX’s has arrived sooner than most because it wasn’t supposed to be posthumous at all. Earl Simmons’ career had been in decline since the mid-00s, eventually grinding to a halt amid a litany of legal problems, health issues and financial woes – he filed for bankruptcy three times, was jailed for everything from tax fraud to animal cruelty; struggled with bipolar disorder and addiction and released only one, poorly received official album, 2012’s Undisputed, in the last 15 years. But prior to his death from an apparent drug overdose this April, he was already on the comeback trail. Related: DMX obituary Continue reading…

Mdou Moctar: Afrique Victime review – wild, virtuosic Tuareg blues

by Phil Mongredien on 23rd May 2021 at 2:00 pm (Matador)The Nigerien guitarist and band sizzle on a deeply satisfying album that pays unusual homage to his early careerIt seems fitting that the first album on Matador (and his sixth in total) from the Nigerien guitarist Mdou Moctar should not come only in the usual formats – CD, vinyl and download – but also preloaded on to a limited-edition Nokia 6120, as a decade ago it was via Bluetooth mobile swaps that his music originally spread across the Sahara. Since then, he has starred in a Tuareg-language remake of the film Purple Rain and been a fierce critic of France’s colonial legacy. But it’s still as a musician that Moctar is at his most expressive, his brand of hypnotic desert blues infused with field recordings and virtuoso instrumental work.Indeed, the most immediate songs here are those where his fluid soloing takes centre stage, as on album opener Chismiten. Even better is the seven-minute title track, a lament for the continued exploitation of his continent and its peoples that explodes into wild, Hendrix/Van Halen-inspired pyrotechnics for its lengthy coda. It’s made all the more thrilling by the fact that while Moctar is busy conjuring extraordinary sounds from his guitar, the rest of his band keep upping the song’s tempo. Pleasingly, he is no less affecting on his more gentle, acoustic material, as on stripped-back recent single Tala Tannam. Continue reading…

Olivia Rodrigo: Sour review – the perfect soundtrack to a first breakup

by Michael Cragg on 23rd May 2021 at 12:00 pm (Universal)The record-breaking 18-year-old follows her smash hit Drivers License with an impressive debut album of pop-punk screamers and delicate balladry Keen not to be defined by January’s record-breaking ballad Drivers License, 18-year-old Disney-actor-turned-singer Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album opens with a surprise. “I want it to be, like, messy,” she blurts at the start of Brutal, a galloping, guitar-drenched pop-punk screamer in which the star of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series rages about problems at work (“who am I if not exploited?”) and on the road (“I can’t even parallel park”). Track two, Traitor, mirrors that song’s anger (“you betrayed me”, she sings, as if swallowing her emotions) but drops the tempo, encasing it in warm organ and delicate acoustic guitar.Sonically, this opening salvo sets the dual moods for an assured debut, with ripe teenage emotions bubbling beneath both frantic early-00s Avril Lavigne cosplay (the pogoing, smeared mascara anthem Good 4 U) and, on the spectral Enough for You, delicate balladry that makes good use of Rodrigo’s Taylor Swift-esque lyrical precision. Somewhere in between lies the excellent Deja Vu, a lyrically astute kiss-off that recalls Lorde via whispered vocals and blown-out electronics. Continue reading…

Lambchop: Showtunes review – American songwriting the slow and shimmering way

by Kitty Empire on 23rd May 2021 at 8:00 am (City Slang)Kurt Wagner puts a midi keyboard centre stage on Lambchop’s expansive, laid-back latestLambchop’s Kurt Wagner can’t play piano. So for Lambchop’s 15th studio album – the third in this Americana artist’s recent experiments in electronics – he transposed music he had written on the guitar on to a midi keyboard. The result is Showtunes, an album whose title suggests razzmatazz but delivers Wagner’s customary laid-back profundity with well placed digital embellishments.Others have been this way before – Bon Iver and Low are just two guitar acts who have reinvented their work electronically. Yet Showtunes is indelibly a Lambchop album, a set of songs that references the legacy of American songwriting from inside a vat of shimmering treacle. The pace is slow but spacious, giving rise to a pair of instrumental meditations and a seven-minute track, Fuku, whose percussive pops, blithe piano motif and bittersweet brass accretes into a quasi-standard pondering the imperfect nature of love. Drop C uses cut-up found sound in a more staticky way, and Blue Leo essays some disorienting vocal manipulations that are perhaps too reminiscent of the latterday Bon Iver. Showtunes is much stronger, however, when Wagner layers its disparate elements more subtly – leaning into its limpid jazz horns and electronic atmospheres, with just the distant memory of an opera singer punctuating The Last Benedict. Continue reading…

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino: Meridiana review – where Puglia meets bhangra

by Neil Spencer on 22nd May 2021 at 3:00 pm (Ponderosa Music)Recorded in lockdown, the dynamic Italian folk band’s latest mixes high drama and contemplationThe southern Italian troupe – let’s call them CGS – offer a lesson in how to turn local music into a global brand, having updated Puglia’s pizzica tradition of song and dance into eclectic, festival-friendly theatre. Mixing originals and age-old songs, this latest album comes loaded with their customary drama, setting individual and collective vocals against handheld tamburello drums (think bodhráns on steroids) and backings of squeezebox, bouzouki, violin and pipes.Openers Balla Nina and Orfeo alternate rapid-fire male and female vocals (suggesting Italian is the natural language of rap) with massed harmonies that have one foot in pagan folk, the other in church. The production of guitarist Justin Adams (Robert Plant’s lieutenant) adds clever touches of dub and drone to proceedings. Continue reading…

The Resurrection: Bugzy Malone review – highs and lows that catch you off guard

by Kitty Empire on 22nd May 2021 at 1:00 pm (B Somebody)After two brushes with death last year, the Manchester rapper has a lot to process on his starkly honest second album Hip-hop has no shortage of redemption narratives. Bugzy Malone’s is ongoing. As recently as last year, the Manchester MC was charged with two counts of wounding – this, after many years spent boxing, rapping, then acting in Guy Ritchie movies in a largely successful effort to put a difficult past behind him. The 30-year-old still carries sufficient ferocity to have guested on the recent remix of Tion Wayne and Russ Millions’ Body, the first UK No 1 for the drill subgenre.To this stuttering redemption song Malone adds two more hooks. In the UK, grime and hip-hop have long been London-centric. The “King of the North” was the first to put Manchester in contention back in 2015 with a landmark Fire in the Booth radio freestyle. Manchester’s latest wunderkind, Aitch, has ridden the slipstream of Malone’s hard-hitting, dextrous flows. Continue reading…

Classical home listening: Param Vir, Prokofiev, Copland and Poulenc

by Fiona Maddocks on 22nd May 2021 at 11:00 am An album devoted to the music of Param Vir was worth the wait. And three wartime sonatas inspire Benjamin Baker and Daniel Lebhardt• Param Vir’s Wheeling Past the Stars (NMC), the title taken from his settings of texts by Rabindranath Tagore, could be an exemplar for life: many styles and traditions living freely, fruitfully, distinctly, in the mind of one person. Born in Delhi in 1952, UK-based, Vir combines the Indian classical music of his formative years and the western tradition he later embraced, studying with Peter Maxwell Davies and Oliver Knussen.Raga Fields (2014), conductor Enno Poppe, forges the improvisatory framework of a raga, for sarod soloist (the virtuosic Soumik Datta), with notated passages for 17 ensemble players, here Klangforum Wien. The result is meditative and sonically inventive, neither crossover nor pastiche. The Tagore cycle, for cello (Ulrich Heinen) and soprano (Patricia Auchterlonie), sets four sharply contrasting poems. Auchterlonie’s assured coloratura and Heinen’s springy pizzicato, delicate harmonics and rushes of glissando act in sensuous dialogue. Before Krishna (1987, London Chamber Orchestra) and Hayagriva (2005, Schönberg Ensemble) complete this album, the first – long overdue – dedicated to Vir’s aurally rich music. Continue reading…

Ches Smith and We All Break: Path of Seven Colors review – a tour de force of jazz innovation

by John Fordham on 21st May 2021 at 8:00 am (Pyroclastic Records)Haitian traditions inspire the percussionist’s exhilarating hybrid of melodic drums, evocative vocals and fiery improvisationHere’s the album that shows just why the nondescript term “drummer” doesn’t get near the chemistry of earworm hooks, sharp-end jazz innovation and global-musical openness of New York percussionist/composer Ches Smith. With saxophonist Tim Berne (a big compositional influence), John Zorn, violist Mat Maneri and many others, Smith has blossomed from skilful sideman to the collaborative original behind this exhilarating set – drawing on his devoted study of Haiti’s Vodou musical traditions with New York’s Haitian-American community, and in empathic hybrid lineups joining Haitian performers and jazz-rooted improvisers. Continue reading…

Twenty One Pilots: Scaled and Icy review – genre-hoppers find their happy place

by Rachel Aroesti on 21st May 2021 at 7:30 am (Fueled by Ramen)The Ohio duo’s sixth album takes their usual mix of rock, rap and synth-pop but adds more upbeat lyricsIn 2019, Twenty One Pilots became the first act in US history to have every song on two separate albums certified gold, for 2013’s Vessel and 2015’s Blurryface. It’s an achievement suggestive of a groundbreaking cultural phenomenon, or at least a really great band. In reality, the Ohio duo specialise in an easily digestible but generally unremarkable slurry of rock, rap and synth-pop, their melodies appealing but hardly unforgettable. Aside from their voguish mix-and-match approach to genre, it is only their lyrics that offer any real clue to their huge popularity: the band’s frank dissection of mental-health struggles and emo-style vulnerability (“But now I’m insecure / And I care what people think,” goes their biggest hit, Stressed Out) is a mode that is both evergreen and all the rage. Continue reading…

Olivia Rodrigo: Sour review – cathartic rage at teenage heartbreak

by Rachel Aroesti on 21st May 2021 at 7:13 am (Geffen) The 18-year-old songwriter makes good on her record-breaking debut single with a first album that metabolises anger, jealousy and bewilderment into pop euphoriaEven in a world where streaming’s rise means chart records are broken all the time, the debut single by Disney star Olivia Rodrigo is an anomaly. Upon the release of Drivers License in January, it had the biggest first week for any song ever on Spotify – then hit the 100m streams mark faster than any other track on the platform had before. It debuted at No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for eight weeks – only the seventh song ever to do so. In the UK, it topped the charts for nine weeks and broke the record for the highest single-day streams ever for a non-Christmas song. Related: ‘We have to nurture each other’: how Olivia Rodrigo and Gen Z reinvented the power ballad Continue reading…

Schreker: Der Ferne Klang review – beauty, fairytale magic and luscious scoring

by Andrew Clements on 20th May 2021 at 2:00 pm Jennifer Holloway/Ian Koziara/Frankfurt Opera/Sebastian Weigle(Oehms Classics, three CDs)Schreker’s operas, popular a century ago, are little known today. This recording, taken from a 2019 production, has much to recommend it but suffers from lack of dramatic chemistry between the two protagonists Though several of Franz Schreker’s nine completed operas were hugely fashionable in his lifetime, none has a secure place in the repertory nowadays. The best known of them was the second to be composed, Der Ferne Klang, whose first performance in 1912 established Schreker alongside Strauss and Schoenberg as one of the leading modernists of his generation. It still gets sporadic stagings, and the new recording – the fourth currently available – is taken from a 2019 production in the city where it was premiered, Frankfurt.

Erika de Casier: Sensational review – R&B rewind from a true original

by Alexis Petridis on 20th May 2021 at 10:40 am (4AD)Full of 90s and 00s nostalgia, from Destiny’s Child to Café del Mar, the Danish artist’s second album boasts witty lyrics, outlandish soundscapes and beautiful pop melodiesThey sound almost nothing like each other, but the second album by Erika de Casier – that rarest of musical phenomena, an R&B artist from Ribe, a small town in southern Denmark – feels like a spiritual counterpart of another recent acclaimed album. Like Rina Sawayama’s 2020 debut, Sensational has its roots in childhood hours spent watching early-00s MTV. But while Sawayama reflected the channel’s scattershot bombardment – a world where nu-metal, Britney Spears, hip-hop and Evanescence all jostled for your attention – Sensational is more intensively focused. Related: Sign up for the Sleeve Notes email: music news, bold reviews and unexpected extras Continue reading..

Paul Weller: Fat Pop (Volume 1) review – more earnest than exciting

by Phil Mongredien on 16th May 2021 at 2:00 pm (Polydor)Recorded largely during last year’s first lockdown, Weller’s 16th solo album is a reined in affairAnybody thinking that 2018’s relatively trad True Meanings marked the end of Paul Weller’s decade of untamed experimentation would have reckoned without last year’s On Sunset, which once again offered up curveballs aplenty. Fat Pop (Volume 1) – put together largely during lockdown last spring after his tour was postponed, and completed at his Surrey studio when the lifting of restrictions allowed his regular band to reconvene – finds Weller once again reining in some of his unpredictability on an album that’s ultimately more earnest than exciting. Related: Paul Weller: ‘Music means more to me since I’ve been sober’ Continue reading…

Jorja Smith: Be Right Back review – keeping the same flame burning

by Kadish Morris on 16th May 2021 at 12:00 pm (Famm)This eight-track halfway house between Lost & Found and Smith’s next full album covers familiar groundWhy is the shortest track always the sweetest? Under two minutes long, Time, on Jorja Smith’s eight-track Be Right Back, is a tender arrangement of vulnerable vocals over acoustic guitar. “I’m not here to hug you, I’m just for the night,” she howls.Smith’s 2018 debut album, Lost & Found, was a coming-of-age tale of self-discovery. Not much has changed since then: the same themes of disorientation that appeared in songs such as Blue Lights emerge here in Addicted and Burn: “You tried so hard. Don’t you know you’re burnt out?” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means that Be Right Back lacks some suspense. Smith doesn’t owe anyone fresh narratives, but as her muse Amy Winehouse candidly showed us with Frank and Back to Black, your perspective on life and love can shapeshift in just three years – enough to make you sound like a different artist. Continue reading…

Fatima Al Qadiri: Medieval Femme review – ancient and otherworldly

by Kitty Empire on 16th May 2021 at 8:00 am (Hyperdub)This New York-based Kuwaiti artist combines early music with digital dubs to dreamlike effectA decade into a career at the confluence of digital music and art, the latest album by New York-based Kuwaiti electronic composer Fatima Al Qadiri is full of echoes. Her 2017 EP, Shaneera, was a party-facing tribute to the “evil queens” in Arab culture, thriving in spite of oppression. More recently, her immersive score for Mati Diop’s contemporary ghost story, Atlantics, helped earn the film the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2019.Medieval Femme, by contrast, hymns some very different Arab women to Shaneera – those of the medieval period – with the otherworldly delicacy honed on Al Qadiri’s soundtrack work. She has often played with perspective (how the west views the east) as well as place (often hyper-real) and time (juxtapositions, anachronisms), but never quite like this. Sheba sounds like early music laced with sighs of sensual longing and the merest scissor snip of 21st-century percussion. The meditative Tasakuba features sorrowful couplets from the seventh-century elegiac poet Al-Khansa. Apart from the more contemporary dystopian digitals of Golden, the feel throughout is ancient and enigmatic. But these lute tones and classical Arabic music figures are rendered digitally; the cloister garden is an interior dream-space. Continue reading…

Martial Solal: Coming Yesterday review – the great pianist bows out

by Dave Gelly on 15th May 2021 at 3:00 pm (Challenge Records)The doyen of French jazz delivers an emotionally charged collection of standards in his final concert at the age of 91As he sat down to play the opening notes of this 2019 concert, Martial Solal, pianist and doyen of French jazz, had not yet decided whether it was to be his last performance. He was 91 at the time and had been in the spotlight for 70 years. His account of his musings on this subject – calm, lucid, Gallic – makes the best album note I’ve read in years.Age has certainly not softened Solal’s playing. He starts with scraps of melody, a few chords, a rhythmic idea, and builds dazzling musical structures. There’s a piece here, called Medley Ellington, which uses bits of Duke Ellington tunes in this way. Solal is a renowned composer, having made his reputation in 1960 with the score for the classic film Breathless. On this recording, however, he chooses mainly standards. I can’t imagine what the composers of Tea for Two would have made of his witty deconstruction of their harmless little ditty. On the other hand, My Funny Valentine is a tour de force, intense and emotionally charged. A perfect ending. Solal’s mind was made up. This had been his final concert. Continue reading…

Classical home listening: Rodelinda, Miloš and more

by Fiona Maddocks on 15th May 2021 at 11:00 am Lucy Crowe and Iestyn Davies lead the English Concert’s first-rate account of Handel’s 1725 opera. And two premiere recordings from the star guitarist• The English Concert, directed by Harry Bicket, has launched a new Handel opera series with one of his finest: Rodelinda (Linn), first performed at the King’s theatre, London in 1725 with top singers of the day. Bicket’s cast, too, is crammed with Handelian talent. Soprano Lucy Crowe sings the title role, always brilliant in precision and expressive power, as heard in her sorrowful aria Ombre, piante. The countertenor Iestyn Davies, as her “dead” husband Bertarido, invests every word, every note with intensity, and sends the dramatic temperature soaring at each entry. The chiming timbres of the contralto Jess Dandy (Eduige) and countertenor Tim Mead (Unulfo), tenor Joshua Ellicott (Grimoaldo) and bass Brandon Cedel (Garibaldo) complete a first-rate lineup. Continue reading…

Future Folk: Friendly Faces; Different Spaces review | Jude Rogers’s folk album of the month

by Jude Rogers on 14th May 2021 at 8:00 am (The Slow Music Movement)Intimate tracks that jumble together traditional songs and instrumentals with experimental approachesA slow movement offers a break in the pace of a sonata or symphony, a time to pause and reflect. This idea hovers around this feather-soft, psych-flavoured anthology of contemporary folk artists, as does the growing social yearning towards a less frenetic, more meaningful connection to the planet and the people around us. All this idealism may sound very analogue, but Future Folk is a celebration of DIY digital music-making, and how the internet enables communality (the Portuguese label, for environmental reasons, is digital-only). The album consists of 13 intimate tracks made in homespun studios or via remote online collaborations, jumbling together traditional songs and instrumentals with experimental approaches and productions. Continue reading…

The Black Keys: Delta Kream review – stripped back simmering sounds

by Dave Simpson on 14th May 2021 at 7:30 am (Nonesuch Records)Returning to the simpler joys of their early records, the Ohio duo’s 10th album covers songs by the north Mississippi artists that continue to inspire themOver a 20-year trajectory from playing in bars with no audience to filling arenas, the Black Keys have never lost the blues. The Ohio duo of singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney’s 10th album illustrates the point with a set of songs by the north Mississippi artists that continue to inspire them, such as Lafayette County’s late RL Burnside and Hudsonville’s also deceased Junior Kimbrough, a labelmate when the early Black Keys recorded for Fat Possum. Continue reading…

Hindemith: Wind Sonatas review – fabulously fluent performances

by Andrew Clements on 13th May 2021 at 5:20 pm Les Vents Français/Eric Le Sage(Warner Classics)There is lots to admire as the quintet and pianist capture Paul Hindemith’s best known sonatas to reveal their hidden depthsAs well as being one of the 20th century’s leading neoclassical composers, Paul Hindemith was also an outstanding instrumentalist, first as a violinist and later as a viola player of international renown. His versatility was such that reputedly he could play each of the standard orchestral instruments to professional standard, and he utilised that hands-on knowledge in the sonatas (26 altogether) that he composed for all of them. Continue reading…

St Vincent: Daddy’s Home review – master of reinvention warps the sounds of the 70s

by Alexis Petridis on 13th May 2021 at 11:00 am (Loma Vista Recordings)Playing with identity and touching on family matters, Annie Clark’s sixth album with wilfully twisted musical backing is hugely impressiveThe backstory of Annie Clark’s sixth album as St Vincent already feels well-worn. We live in an age of prurient interest in – and boundless opinion-giving about – celebrities’ personal lives: announcing that the title of Daddy’s Home referred to her father’s release from prison after a 10-year stretch for stock manipulation was bound to have an overshadowing effect.Only the title track concerns her father’s imprisonment and release, although his presence lurks over the album in more subtle ways. Its sound was apparently inspired by his record collection, which evidently majored in the early 70s. The whole album is liberally dressed with a synthesised sitar sound that cropped up on dozens of the era’s soul singles, from Freda Payne’s Band of Gold to the Stylistics’ You Are Everything. There are dabblings in the fingerpicked acoustic style of the era’s confessional singer-songwriters, the mock-showtune stylings of Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman and the electric piano-driven funk of Donny Hathaway or Stevie Wonder. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with Pink Floyd’s most successful album can’t fail to notice the influence of its more languid moments on Live in the Dream, which comes complete with the none-more-Floydian lyric, “Welcome child, you’re free of the cage / Trying to seem sane makes you seem so strange”. Related: St Vincent: ‘I’d been feral for so long. I was sort of in outer space’ Continue reading…

Dodie: Build a Problem review – a sweet, candid debut

by Tara Joshi on 9th May 2021 at 2:15 pm (The Orchard)Dodie Clark proves that she’s more than just a YouTube sensation on this promisingly ambitious first albumTen years ago, an Essex teenager called Dodie Clark started uploading cover songs and original tracks to her YouTube channel, often replete with ukulele. Though she remained unsigned, in the years that followed, EP releases saw the singer-songwriter charting in both the UK and US – no doubt partly as a result of her already massive online following.But to frame her success as solely rooted in YouTube fame is to minimise the work and growth evident on Clark’s sweet debut album. Build a Problem comprises cinematic compositions with ripples of strings, piano and guitar, echoes of clarinet, all topped with a mellifluous voice that recalls Regina Spektor without the bite. Clark is unafraid to be messy and tender in candid lyrics that consider relationships with others and herself (“Am I the only one wishing life away? Never caught up in the moment, busy begging the past to stay”). Continue reading…

Rag’n’Bone Man: Life By Misadventure review – a heartfelt follow-up

by Michael Cragg on 9th May 2021 at 2:00 pm (Columbia)Delicate developments are drowned out by stadium songs that mistake volume for passion on Rory Graham’s second albumThere’s a lot riding on this second album from bluesman Rag’n’Bone Man, AKA Sussex-born Rory Graham. His 2017 debut, Human, shifted more than 1m copies in the UK. It would have been easy to replicate that album’s rote formula – rootsy production flourishes fused to rugged, stadium-sized MOR remains chart catnip – but instead, Life By Misadventure opens with two delicately plucked, country-tinged singalongs, immediately eschewing Graham’s propensity for the epic.In fact, aside from galloping lead single All You Ever Wanted, which channels early 00s indie-pop, and the earnest, advert-ready ballad Anywhere Away From Here (a duet with Pink), the songs here feel less eager to please. The pensive Fall in Love Again unfurls delicately, while the darker Party’s Over showcases the album’s main lyrical themes of heartache and emotional rehabilitation. Continue reading…

Squid: Bright Green Field review – exhilarating punk-funk-krautrock debut

by Emily Mackay on 9th May 2021 at 12:00 pm (Warp Records)Boldly flaunting their influences, the Brighton five-piece hurtle along with huge shifts in style and paceThe multifarious music of Brighton five-piece Squid strives hard to escape definition, their tentacles tangled in krautrock, post-rock, math rock, re-revived post-punk and full-on sax-vamping jazz. Their debut album, produced by Dan Carey, has a lot going on: the influence of Douglas Coupland, field recordings of bells and bees, oblique lyrical reflections on everything from big pharma to Easter eggs. Paddling is typical, a nervy gallop from low-key motorik through spidery goth guitars to a ghostly spoken breakdown, opening at last into an exhilarating punk-funk-kraut expanse.Though nothing here is truly experimental or innovative – it’s more the kind of music that gets labelled as such because of the influences it shows – Bright Green Field has a hurtling energy, each song shifting restlessly, repeatedly in style and pace. It’s a shame, then, that the vocals of drummer and lyricist Ollie Judge so often pull it back to earth; his detuned, declamatory yelp, part David Byrne, part Mark E Smith, is straight off the post-punk shelf. When he adopts a more restrained style on the Radiohead-esque 2010, or a full-on grunge scream on the menacing, juddering stomp of Peel St, the music is more free to run clear of the past. Continue reading…

Chloe Moriondo: Blood Bunny review – mischief-making pop-punk

by Kitty Empire on 9th May 2021 at 8:00 am (Fueled by Ramen)Revenge fantasies, misfit anthems and a manta ray love song furnish the YouTube alum’s promising second albumThe pains of youth have been pop’s raw material since the world was new. But the current wave of teen (or recently teenage) artists is something of a tsunami. This cohort of young bedroom producers is levelling up rapidly, swapping snugs for studios and putting out more well-upholstered records. Detroit’s Chloe Moriondo grew up on the internet, graduating from strumming the ukulele on YouTube to being a serious contender on her second album. The 18-year-old only just finished high school during the first lockdown.Preferring girls (Samantha) and being a misfit (Rly Don’t Care) are topics covered by others of a comparable lineage – Clairo, Girl in Red – but there is much to distinguish Moriondo, whose sense of mischief is as strong as her pop-punk desire to tell it like it is. I Want to Be With You may sledgehammer home its quiet-loud stadium indie, but I Eat Boys is a revenge fantasy in which leering males might end up coming a cropper in her basement. Manta Rays, a love song, finds Moriondo getting high, going online, and being shocked to discover how huge manta rays really are. Continue reading…

Teyr: Estren review – a catch of fresh folk

by Neil Spencer on 8th May 2021 at 3:00 pm (Sleight of Hand)Mixing it up to rousing effect, this accomplished trio’s intricate arrangements of uilleann pipes, accordion and guitar are in a class of their ownAs a trio with members from Cornwall, Ireland and Wales, you would expect diversity from Teyr (Cornish for “three”), which they duly deliver on this finely wrought second album. They like to mix things up; assorted traditions and modernity, instrumental and song, jig, reel, ballad and stillness. Their core sound is a blend of uilleann pipes, accordion and guitar, but they are well augmented here by guest violins, cello and voices. Though they wear their instrumental prowess lightly, the intricacy of their arrangements sets them apart from their contemporaries. Arrivals and Departures, the opening pair of instrumentals on an album themed around human movement, offer a typically playful interplay.Estren (“Stranger”), a Victorian ballad, reworks its tale of Cornish migration for modern times, and is echoed by an original, Gone Is the Traveller. On La Bestia, Cornish fishing gets tangled up with what’s called “a curious Bayou waltz”, with guiding shouts from ashore by South African cellist Abel Selaocoe in his Lesotho tongue. Flower of the Sun is plucked from Basque tradition, while the contemplative Kuusilta, rich with violins, describes a moonrise over a Finnish lake. A rowdy valedictory march completes a subtle, insinuating album; a catch of fresh folk. Continue reading…

St Vincent: Daddy’s Home review – a compelling family affair

by Kitty Empire on 8th May 2021 at 1:00 pm (Caroline/Loma Vista)Channelling 70s New York funk and her father’s release from prison, the ever brilliant Annie Clark loosens up on her engagingly soulful sixth albumAnnie “St Vincent” Clark may exaggerate the detail, tell oblique stories or get a little carried away in the dressing-up box, but her work is always packed with emotional veracity. One of Clark’s reputations – for hiding her truths behind elaborate personae – is a little undeserved.Over the course of five albums, all increasingly assured, St Vincent has often laid her world perfectly bare. Young Lover, from her last high-concept, hot-pink tour de force, Masseduction (2017), found Clark’s then-significant other in a bathtub in Paris, unconscious. The song felt like reportage; at the time, Clark was dating a supermodel. Her howl of pain was visceral. “Wake up young lover, I thought you were dying!” Related: St Vincent: ‘I’d been feral for so long. I was sort of in outer space’ Continue reading…

Classical home listening: a dream wind ensemble and the female muse

by Fiona Maddocks on 8th May 2021 at 11:00 am The Orsino Ensemble and Pavel Kolesnikov sparkle their way through the belle époque. Plus, an inspired recital from pianist Antonio Oyarzabal• Chamber music for wind tends to be overshadowed by that for strings (guilty as charged), but here’s a disc that beguiles and dazzles in every bar. Belle Époque: French Music for Wind (Chandos) features the Orsino Ensemble – formed in 2018, this is their debut album – and the pianist Pavel Kolesnikov. The chosen works, from around the turn of the last century, are for different combinations of instruments. Clarinettist Matthew Hunt and Kolesnikov revel in the voluptuous wit of Debussy’s Petite Pièce and Première Rhapsodie. Continue reading…

Angrusori: Live at Tou review – Romany songs of birth, death and black comedy

by John Lewis on 7th May 2021 at 8:00 am (Hudson Records)Using tango, flamenco, junkyard jazz and more, the pan-European group turn stories of migration, pain and persecution into something transcendentOne joy of listening to music in an unfamiliar language is that you can put any interpretation you like on the lyrics. The opening track on this LP, for instance, is an epic, pan-global miasma that conjures up countless images – the strings and organs provide a viscous drone that comes straight out of a Hindustani classical raga; the full-throated vocal harmonies sound like the work of a diaphonic Bulgarian choir; the heartbreaking chords recall Yiddish liturgical music. You could be forgiven for imagining that this is some sacred religious text set to music but, according to the translation in the CD booklet, it’s actually the story of feckless parents getting drunk on Johnnie Walker and finding that their children have been thrown in the river and eaten by fish. Continue reading…

Sophia Kennedy: Monsters review – showtunes and sub-bass from sonic shapeshifter

by Rachel Aroesti on 7th May 2021 at 7:30 am (City Slang)Unable to categorise the Baltimore-born, Hamburg-bred artist, you are thrown into her disarming, disorientating but oddly relaxing emotional worldFor the modern musician, genre-fickleness is no longer the exception but the rule. Switching styles and blending sounds doesn’t simply cater to listeners with depleted attention spans – it can also be a way of evoking and critiquing the chaotic internet culture that left them that way. Baltimore-born, Hamburg-bred artist Sophia Kennedy’s music does both those things, but it also channels a restlessness and nostalgia that has little in common with her peers.For a start, her sonic references include Tin Pan Alley and vintage showtunes, she complements curious melodic callbacks with ominous electronica, expansive hip-hop, sub-bass, trap beats, twanging guitars and the sound of monkeys screeching. What’s also unusual is that she doesn’t temper this fluctuation with a consistent voice: frequently, it’s a low, stately, Bette Davis-style drawl; sometimes it’s a brittle falsetto; sometimes a taut, mean sprechgesang. Continue reading…

Schumann: The Piano Trios; Piano Quintet; Piano Quartet review | Andrew Clements’s classical album of the week

by Andrew Clements on 6th May 2021 at 5:00 pm Trio Wanderer(Harmonia Mundi, three CDs)Trio Wanderer capture Schumann’s playfulness in a group of works demanding contrast and balanceSchumann composed four piano trios altogether – the three that are numbered, and a set of four pieces for violin, cello and piano that were published as the Fantasiestücke, Op 88. Trio Wanderer’s survey also includes Schumann’s two best-known chamber works, the Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet, in which they are joined by the viola player Christophe Gaugué and violinist Catherine Montier. Continue reading…

Van Morrison: Latest Record Project Volume 1 review | Alexis Petridis’s album of the week

by Alexis Petridis on 6th May 2021 at 10:30 am (Exile/BMG)The veteran bluesman loudly wakes up the sheeple with this boring and paranoid double album, reminiscent of a dinner party with a bitter divorceeEven a man as implacably opposed to lockdown as Van Morrison – who spent 2020 releasing songs rubbishing science as “crooked facts”, mocking people for wearing masks and describing the government as “fascist bullies” while also invoking the Berlin Wall – might be forced to concede it had its advantages. After all, it gave him the time to write the material for Latest Record Project Volume 1, a 28-song, two-hour-plus opus that allows him to set out his latterday worldview more fully than an

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