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August 2019 album reviews

August 2019 album reviews
Album reviews

Bon Iver: i,i review – complex and majestic

by Damien Morris on 11th August 2019 at 7:00 am (Jagjaguwar)Apparently, i,i completes a seasonal quartet of Bon Iver albums, starting with the wintry confessions of 2008’s For Emma, Forever Ago and ending now, in autumn. Yet i,i has a brighter, more optimistic and open feel than its “summer” predecessor 22, a Million, with its often impenetrable numerology, distorted Yeezus beats and gutpunch bass. What remains from past seasons is Heavenly Father’s digital gospel, and a little of 00000 Million’s acoustic directness.But what holds Bon Iver’s ever-evolving backwoods orchestra together is Justin Vernon’s yearning vocals. Less obviously Auto-Tuned than before, words tumble out, meaning slips in and out of focus, and the weirdly annoying anachronisms, gnomic neologisms and ecstatic revelations push you to privilege feeling over thinking. The album peaks somewhere around the heartstopping beauty of Hey, Ma’s drifting, wordless middle eight, a breakdown brimming with inarticulate emotion, barely understood, unmediated. Continue reading… […]

Tubby Hayes Quartet: Grits, Beans and Greens review – intense and absorbing

by Dave Gelly on 11th August 2019 at 7:00 am (Fontana/Decca)Come summer, come the time for unearthing long-lost jazz masterpieces. This time it’s four 50-year-old reels of tape, bearing the final studio recording of tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes (1935-73). Despite his nickname, he wasn’t fat, just stocky. Entirely self-taught, Hayes was a genuine prodigy – a professional musician from the age of 16. His endless flow of musical invention was delivered with almost contemptuous ease. Through the late 1950s and early 60s he was the brightest star of British modern jazz, and even caused a stir in the US. By 1969, however, ill health and drugs had derailed his career, and in an effort to get back he was dabbling in easy listening.But his main goal was to make an album with his new young quartet. After several false starts they made one, and this is it. Forget easy listening; this is an intense and absorbing experience. It’s a product of its time, certainly, but it was an exciting and often bewildering time, and the Tubby Hayes Quartet caught its essence perfectly. Available in CD and other formats, including a deluxe double CD with extra material. Continue reading… […]

Marika Hackman: Any Human Friend review – frank breakup album

by Tara Joshi on 11th August 2019 at 7:00 am (EMI)Breakup albums are standard fare in the world of pop and rock, but it’s hard to think of nearly enough that feature odes to women masturbating while subverting the heteronormative gaze. Enter British singer-songwriter Marika Hackman with her third album, and glorious songs such as Hand Solo (“I gave it all, but under patriarchal law, I’m gonna die a virgin”).Queer sex, self-pleasure and a general wry frankness are consistent themes throughout Any Human Friend, which follows the end of Hackman’s four-year relationship with fellow musician Amber Bain, aka the Japanese House. Hackman has spoken lately of a newfound love of swimming, and on tracks such as the woozy, sweet-as-summer-wine Wanderlust you can feel the quiet meditativeness of moving through water as she wrings out the past – “Did I make her laugh, or was it just pretend?” – with disarming candour. Continue reading… […]

The Regrettes: How Do You Love? review – reliably explosive

by Emily Mackay on 11th August 2019 at 7:00 am (Warner)Smashing riot grrrl into girl-group doo-wop is hardly new: Bikini Kill did it from the off, and this young California quartet are a mere syllable away from England’s retro punk poppers the Pipettes. Still, it’s a reliably explosive formula, and despite questionable structural integrity as a band (four members lost in as many years of existence), their second album reveals a rock-solid west coast pop-punk spine, the skanking likes of Stop and Go exuberantly announcing them heirs to No Doubt.Unlike that band, the Regrettes didn’t take 10 years of gigging to break through. Signed to Warner early on, and shiny as a new penny, for them DIY is a flavour rather than a founding principle. Frontwoman Lydia Night’s decision to appear alongside Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong on rightwing edgelord Morrissey’s recent covers album also suggests she hasn’t quite got all her political ducks in a row yet. Continue reading… […]

Home listening: a must for RVW fans, and more

by Stephen Pritchard on 11th August 2019 at 7:00 am Vaughan Williams’s incidental music for an abandoned production of Richard II, recorded for the first time, features on a fine disc from the RSNO• Even at the height of the second world war, the BBC was commissioning new music, particularly to accompany stirring radio dramas designed to inspire the stoical people of these islands. Britten wrote for Edward Sackville-West’s The Rescue and Walton for Louis MacNeice’s Christopher Columbus, and when a major production of Shakespeare’s Richard II was planned, Ralph Vaughan Williams was commissioned to provide the incidental music. He had already produced successive film scores in the war effort – 49th Parallel, Coastal Command and The Story of a Flemish Farm – and now here was a chance to write for wartime radio. His carefully tailored score was delivered (and paid for), but the production was abandoned in 1944 and the music forgotten.Now we can hear it for the first time, in a recording by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Dutton Epoch) under Martin Yates. More than 30 radio cues are presented in sequence, some short fanfares and entrance and exit music; others longer sections illustrating action or characters. All are unmistakably RVW, and show what a meticulous craftsman he was. Cellist Nadège Rochat joins the orchestra for the Fantasia on Sussex Folk Tunes, flautist Anna Noakes for Roger Steptoe’s arrangement of the Suite de Ballet, and baritone Roderick Williams sings the evergreen Songs of Travel. A must for RVW fans. Continue reading… […]

Feeder: Tallulah review – zeitgeist-avoiding alt-rockers fall flat

by Al Horner on 9th August 2019 at 9:30 am (Victor Entertainment)Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose’s 10th album features unfashionable guitar anthems with MOR flourishesNewport duo Feeder might forever be known for a song named after a man displaced in time: Buck Rogers (on their sci-fi tinted anthem Echo Park), which reached the UK Top 5 in 2001. Eighteen years after that commercial peak, as the band mark their 25th anniversary with 10th album Tallulah, Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose sound a little displaced themselves. Continue reading… […]

Trippie Redd: ! review – compelling but contradictory emo-rap

by Rachel Aroesti on 9th August 2019 at 9:00 am (Caroline)With conflicting messages and music, it seems as if Redd has sacrificed a clear artistic identity in favour of sending shockwaves through hip-hopThe voice of Trippie Redd – AKA 20-year-old Ohioan rapper Michael White – is nothing if not inconsistent. Sometimes he showcases a strange, deeply melodic croon, one that manages to feel rich and strained, soulful and flat, all at the same time. Elsewhere, he deploys a softly guttural gurgle, or a bratty whine. This slippery identity extends to his message – which feels confusing and contradictory. “Say no to suicide”, he mutters melancholically (and apparently earnestly) on Snake Skin, before scoffing that his rivals are so intimidated that they “gon’ kill theyselves they see me stuntin’”. Be Yourself, meanwhile, initially comes over like a self-acceptance anthem, before ordering its subject to “change” and “kill yourself”. Continue reading… […]

Marika Hackman: Any Human Friend review – selfishness, sex and passion

by Aimee Cliff on 9th August 2019 at 8:30 am (Sub Pop)With deadpan humour and rock-star confidence, Hackman essays her own restive, messy desires, from denial to acceptanceThe phrase Any Human Friend is taken straight from the mouth of a four-year-old. Singer-songwriter Marika Hackman says that she saw a child use it in a Channel 4 documentary, about kids who befriend elderly people with dementia. It immediately seemed to her that this had to be the title of her new album: an album that’s all about bodies, instinct, and childlike, unfiltered thoughts. Continue reading… […]

Slipknot: We Are Not Your Kind review – Iowan behemoths’ most brutal, gentle album

by Dave Simpson on 9th August 2019 at 8:00 am (Roadrunner)Mixing their trademark raging riffola and tribal drumming with everything from krautrock to acoustic elements, Slipknot push their own limitsSlipknot are never too far from trauma. Having long outlived the terrors of nu-metal, the Iowan masked behemoths’ last album, .5: The Gray Chapter, channelled their grief at founding bassist Paul Gray’s fatal overdose. This sixth album’s similarly tortuous gestation included frontman/best-selling author Corey Taylor’s marriage break-up and a bizarre incident where guitarist Mick Thomson was stabbed in the head by his brother. With so much to be furious about, We Are Not Your Kind contains their most brutal music and yet, albeit occasionally, their gentlest too. The 14 songs push their sonic envelope, meaning that their trademark hooligan riffola and tribal drumming co-exist with experimental krautrock and (gulp) acoustic strums. The electro-pulsing My Pain and avant garde, percussive Spiders have a whiff of Depeche Mode about them, while the silky chorus of the otherwise punky metal Nero Forte wouldn’t be out of place in a mainstream pop banger. Continue reading… […]

Ami Dang: Parted Plains review | Ammar Kalia’s global album of the month

by Ammar Kalia on 9th August 2019 at 7:30 am (Leaving Records)Dang’s self-assured album brings elements of unease to stillness, with keening melodies and multilayered soundsThe line between ambient music and muzak can be a fine one. The former is “an atmosphere, a surrounding influence: a tint” to envelop the listener, music “intended to induce calm and a space to think,” according to Brian Eno’s liner notes on the topic, while the latter has become a watchword for unremarkable background sounds; stuff to merely fill a room’s silence. To the uninitiated, both can occupy the same murky generic space of the spa or hotel lobby – music that is as ignorable as it is interesting. Continue reading… […]

The Edge of Silence: Works for Voice by György Kurtág review | Andrew Clements’s classical album of the week

by Andrew Clements on 8th August 2019 at 2:00 pm Narucki/Berman/Macomber/Tolle/Schulmeister (Avie)Susan Narucki’s album of Kurtág’s music is committed, expressive and profoundThe soprano Susan Narucki has been an unflinching champion of a huge range of contemporary music from both sides of the Atlantic for more than 30 years, but the vocal works of György Kurtág have always had a central place in her repertoire. They have become, she writes: “Essential to the way that I understand music … the heart of my practice as a musician.” Her collection of some of those pieces is based around two of Kurtág’s greatest vocal works, Scenes from a Novel Op 19, on texts by the Russian poet Rimma Dalos, completed in 1982, and the Attila József Fragments Op 20, from the previous year. Continue reading… […]

Bon Iver: i,i review – his first ever misfire

by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 8th August 2019 at 11:00 am (Jagjaguwar)Justin Vernon has been building Bon Iver into an artistic commune of shared ideals – but loses his way in a fog of weak melodies and bad poetryPerhaps thanks to the stars and stripes looking cool on anything, be it Air Force One or cake frosting, Americans appear a lot more patriotic than they actually are. They’re actually individualists, from pilgrim fathers to gold prospectors and angel investors; Thoreau, Tony Montana, Trump. You can bring in others and become a corporation or a cult, but you’ll still be your own little island, pledging allegiance to the flag in an archipelago of millions.The only difficulty is in scaling up, a problem now faced by Justin Vernon. When his group Bon Iver started out, he was on his own: a guy going to a cabin in north-west Wisconsin, unwell, newly single, and in a creative rut. After three months, living off venison he hunted, he came back with For Emma, Forever Ago, a staggeringly beautiful and emotive set of songs written on guitar. This was American individualism in its most idealised form: white, male, overcoming adversity, and acknowledging nature’s beauty only to try something even better. Continue reading… […]

Ty Segall: First Taste review – fabulously full-on

by Kitty Empire on 4th August 2019 at 7:00 am (Drag City)Garage rock made with saxophone, mandolin, Japanese koto and bouzouki? Most garage-inclined albums, even those of the psychedelic persuasion, don’t often leave the traditional band configuration. First Taste – which might be Ty Segall’s 12th solo studio album (it depends how you’re counting) – adds a music shop’s worth of exotic instrumentation and double drummers to this Californian’s driving, sprawling oeuvre.Magnificently, songs like Taste or The Fall are only energised by these diverse sonic signatures. The double-drummers are key, too: Segall’s in the left-hand channel, while frequent collaborator and multi-instrumentalist Charles Moothart is in the right. Tracks such as I Worship the Dog (dogs are a recurrent theme in Segall’s work) simultaneously peddle protean sludge, ticklish percussiveness and heady drones. The skronk is fabulously full-on, but Segall’s Beatles fixation comes to the fore on sweeter-natured swirls like When I Met My Parents (Part 3) or Ice Plant, lightening the assault but not sparing the senses. Continue reading… […]

Nérija: Blume – formidable jazz crew need to cut loose

by Ammar Kalia on 4th August 2019 at 7:00 am (Domino)There’s a real warmth about London-based jazz septet Nérija on their debut album. It might have something to do with the close-knit harmonies of the horn front line – Nubya Garcia on tenor saxophone, Sheila Maurice-Grey on trumpet, Cassie Kinoshi on alto sax and Rosie Turton on trombone – or the fact that this young collective have known each other since they were teens attending the free weekend jazz workshop Tomorrow’s Warriors.Democracy is their watchword. Each band member has penned their own compositions on Blume: a mix of frenetic Afrobeats on Last Straw, written by Maurice-Grey; choral balladry on the title track, by Garcia; and Kinoshi’s scattergun hip-hop fusion on EU (Emotionally Unavailable). For all the variety, no single track stands out; Nérija rarely stray from the comfortable territory of mid-tempo, mid-dynamic improvisation. When playing live, they’re a formidable force, carving new shapes with propulsive solos from Garcia, Kinoshi and guitarist Shirley Tetteh. Here, though, they feel constrained by the studio – their warmth a safety blanket, rather than a moving and engaging force. Continue reading… […]

Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook review – from Big Country to John Martyn

by Neil Spencer on 4th August 2019 at 7:00 am (Hegri)The C90 cassette unspooling on the sleeve makes an apt motif for an album that is both a tribute to Scottish pop and a personal testimony from Caledonia’s reigning folk queen. Not that there’s much folk involved; most of the songs Karine Polwart interprets here are from the mainstream, drawn from a live show in turn inspired by an Edinburgh exhibition, Rip It Up, celebrating Scotland’s distinctive contribution to British pop. Big Country’s Chance, for example, was an air-punching anthem for a teenage Polwart in smalltown Stirlingshire, though it’s here transformed into a meditation on domestic abuse and an abandoned young mother.Polwart works similar reconstructions on the likes of Deacon Blue, the Blue Nile and John Martyn. Strawberry Switchblade’s Since Yesterday morphs from bubblegum romance into a commentary on Alzheimer’s – “I’m scared I’ll have to say/ That a part of you is gone since yesterday” – while the Waterboys’ rocking The Whole of the Moon gets a minimalist treatment, with deft backings of glockenspiel and clarinet from a fine band. Whatever the song, Polwart’s vocals, austere rather than exuberant, tease out underlying themes of resilience and resistance to make a compendium of small-p political pop. Continue reading… […]

Clairo: Immunity review – a winning debut

by Emily Mackay on 4th August 2019 at 7:00 am (Fader)Virality’s a fickle mistress, as Massachusetts singer-songwriter Claire Cottrill discovered last year. A viral hit recorded in her bedroom – Pretty Girl – sent her soaring on YouTube’s algorithm, but the crash came soon after. Cottrill’s father is a marketing executive; her record deal was secured through his contacts. And so, whispers began bubbling up from the cesspit depths of Reddit that she was an “industry plant”. You don’t have to come down on either side of the authentic/fake binary – it’s important to follow the money and influence, but also to remember that good music can come from anywhere. And her winning debut ranges intriguingly beyond wistful bedroom pop (Pretty Girl has been shaken off). North feels like early Beck, grungy guitar with an old-school hip-hop bump, while Sofia pairs Strokes guitar with Stereolab-style ironic Eurodisco and Impossible offers intimate confessions over baroque-pop harpsichord and shunting beats.It’s all tied together by Cottrill’s sleepy-but-smart delivery, creeping in on a cloud of reverb like a vaporwave Juliana Hatfield. The closer, I Wouldn’t Ask You, shifts phase halfway through to become a psychy, sun-kissed, trip-hop epic, suggesting Clairo’s future ambitions. She won’t be, and shouldn’t be, immune to critique, but she’s certainly strong enough to weather it. Continue reading… […]

Home listening: Bach on harpsichord, piano, organ… take your pick

by Fiona Maddocks on 4th August 2019 at 7:00 am Revelatory Mahan Esfahani, Keith Jarrett live in 1987 and Olivier Latry at the Proms• Now that we so often hear Bach’s keyboard works played on the piano (and the debate about whether it’s even legitimate to listen to them on a modern instrument has subsided), returning to performances on the harpsichord can prove a revelation. This is especially true in hands as persuasive as those of the Iranian-American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani.His new disc of Bach’s Toccatas (Hyperion) conveys the spirit and expressive freedom of these seven early works, for which no single autograph source survives. Some serious detective work is required to address issues of ornamentation and phrasing, colour and clarity, which Bach would have expected to vary according to a performer’s taste. Esfahani, who explains their complex history in a detailed essay, has made his own new performing edition and reveals these familiar pieces to have mysteries we may never have suspected. Continue reading… […]

Mabel: High Expectations review – something sassy this way comes

by Kitty Empire on 3rd August 2019 at 1:00 pm (Polydor)Eschewing the artiness of her uber-cool heritage, Mabel serves up dizzying chart-friendly pop and R&B on her debut albumEvery album released comes freighted with hope, this one more than most. Mabel is one of the year’s hottest breakout acts, having gone from box-fresh to bona fide phenomenon in the space of two years.One minute, she had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her visual cameo in the video for Skepta’s magisterial Shutdown (2015). The next, she’d had her own hit, 2017’s Finders Keepers. Then came more lighter fluid on her sizzle: collaborations with rapper Not3s – My Lover and Fine Line – which inflamed curiosity online thanks to the pair’s on-screen chemistry. Songs are all well and good, but plotlines really keep the public’s attention. Whatever the truth, Mabel’s hook-up with her fellow up’n’coming Londoner worked because of the warmth coming off the pair, so different from pop’s prevailing cut-throat lust-vibes.The prospect of lots of hot sex is no bad thing, but songs about it abound Related: One to watch: Mabel Continue reading… […]

Francis Lung: A Dream Is U review – plaintive introspection from buzz band man

by Hannah J Davies on 2nd August 2019 at 9:30 am (Memphis Industries)Jangling, inward-looking lo-fi indie with Elliott Smith touches has potential but lacks his former band Wu Lyf’s originalityThe young, mysterious buzz band is a mainstay of British music culture. In 2019, the most-hyped-of-them-all are improv rockers Black Midi, but way back in 2011 that title went to Manchester’s Wu Lyf, a kind of cider-soaked Arcade Fire approximation whose name reverberated around the music press for some time before they – inevitably – announced their breakup via YouTube. Three years on, bassist Tom McClung struck out as lo-fi, indie pop star Francis Lung, his music more introspective if not overly original. A Dream Is U is his first full-length solo project, and one that comes with the promise of sounding “like a short Mancunian boy single-handedly trying to incite Beatlemania”. Continue reading… […]

Volbeat: Rewind, Replay, Rebound review – chugging metal-meets-rockabilly

by Al Horner on 2nd August 2019 at 9:00 am (Vertigo Berlin)It may be their seventh album but on this evidence the eclectic Danish metal four-piece are not prepared to go quietlyDanish band Volbeat open their seventh studio album with Last Day Under the Sun, a stadium singalong inspired by a story in Johnny Cash’s autobiography, in which the country icon lays down in a cave and decides to die. “I’ve done it all before, I feel alive again,” sings frontman Michael Poulsen, sparking the suggestion that their seventh studio LP might represent a rebirth. Instead, Rewind, Replay, Rebound plays true to its title, revisiting and refining the four-piece’s traditional blend of chugging melodic metal and high-octane rockabilly abandon. Continue reading… […]


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