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July 2019 album reviews

July 2019 album reviews
Album reviews


Spell Songs: The Lost Words review – a literary landscape brought to life

by Neil Spencer on 21st July 2019 at 8:00 am (Quercus)The vivid, poetic nature writing of Robert Macfarlane has touched a sweet spot in the national psyche, making him a bestseller and provoking a groundswell of concern for language, landscape and history. Spell Songs sets Macfarlane’s garlanded The Lost Words to music, with fresh material from the author and illustrator Jackie Morris. Playing and singing is a poly-talented eight-strong ensemble led by Scots singer Karine Polwart, the collective putting together the record during a residency in Grasmere.Several of its songs are, indeed, spells, evocations of Acorn, Heron and Kingfisher set to delicate blends of harp, guitar, cello and kora (courtesy of Senegal’s Seckou Keita). The Snow Hare is a mesmerising vocal duet by Polwart and Julie Fowlis that captures the austere beauty of a winter landscape, while Charm on, Goldfinch, mixing birdsong, whistling and words, makes the bird an emblem of hope. Heartwood was written as “a charm against harm” in support of Sheffield’s Tree Action Groups, and the theme of ecological watchfulness returns in the closing Lost Words Blessing, reminding us of our duty of care to future generations. A brave and magical creation. Continue reading… […]

Blood Orange: Angel’s Pulse review – immersive and delicate mixtape

by Tara Joshi on 21st July 2019 at 8:00 am (Domino) As Blood Orange, New York-based artist Dev Hynes has released four deeply impressive albums of glossy, genre-fluid sounds. Angel’s Pulse is something a little different – described by London-born Hynes as a mixtape, the distinction comes in this being a release of between-projects material: an epilogue to last year’s exquisite Negro Swan. Normally, Hynes keeps these post-album sketches private, sharing with friends, sometimes even slipping a mixtape to a stranger on the street. For the first time he is sharing such a release with the wider world. Hynes’s albums sound like mixtapes anyway, the way his tracks delicately meld into one another being a stylistic constant. But everything here feels more muted, with motifs that nod quietly to its predecessor – Tuesday Feeling (Choose to Stay), for example, seems to channel the introductory melody of Runnin’. It’s immersive, but bar a couple of songs and features (Southern rap don Project Pat and enigmatic MC BennY RevivaL are both standouts) it lacks the urgency or vitality of its two predecessors. Instead, this is a lounge-y mixtape that drifts comfortably within Hynes’s beautiful sonic realm. Continue reading… […]

by Kitty Empire on 21st July 2019 at 7:00 am (Glassnote)Ider’s Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville did not go to the Brit school. And yet this duo have produced a debut album full of world-class, homegrown pop. No vast committees of co-writers appear on these credits: this is a record in which two twentysomething women nail the millennial experience with sensitivity and sass, though they do have the added production nous of Rodaidh McDonald (the xx, Sampha) and MyRiot (London Grammar).These 11 songs ping confidently around the post-genre electro-pop landscape. Throughout, R&B dynamics and folk harmonies are Ider’s two most consistent reference points. A bit like First Aid Kit, Markwick and Somerville frequently merge themselves into a composite third voice – that’s “Ider”. And while Let’s Eat Grandma are obvious fellow travellers, the duo’s songs tackle the big spaces head-on, unafraid of going for the swooping drama and earworm melodies of their labelmates, Chvrches. Continue reading… […]

by Michael Cragg on 21st July 2019 at 7:00 am (Atlantic)Despite notions of cool dying out in a blaze of post-irony, Ed Sheeran remains obsessed with his perceived status as an outsider. On his fourth album, a belated follow-up to his pre-fame EP featuring a who’s who of modern pop, he’s the loner at glitzy showbiz parties (Justin Bieber duet I Don’t Care); the everyman megastar desperate to go back to the UK “for a packet of crisps with my pint” (Take Me Back to London featuring Stormzy) and, on the woeful Remember the Name, the home counties rap fan trying to hold his own with Eminem and 50 Cent: “Yeah, I was born a misfit,” he “spits”, “grew up 10 miles from the town of Ipswich”.It’s when he’s not acting the “misfit” that the album works best, however. The breezy, Cardi B-assisted South of the Border recalls the pop finesse of Shape of You, while the Ella Mai duet Put It All on Me transforms tour loneliness into something sweetly affecting. Antisocial, meanwhile, is a shape-shifting Travis Scott banger good enough to withstand Sheeran’s presence. Continue reading… […]

Home listening: a good week for keyboard wizards

by Fiona Maddocks on 21st July 2019 at 7:00 am

Each in their own way, Martin James Bartlett and John Challenger pull out all the stops• Still only 23 years old, the English pianist Martin James Bartlett won BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2014 and is now racing ahead with his international career. Love and Death (Warner) is his first recital disc: ambitious repertoire. thoughtfully and eloquently played, of subtly interlinking works by Liszt, Granados, Prokofiev and Bach (arranged by Busoni and Hess). It’s a mix of fairly familiar – Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnets, the Wagner/Liszt Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde – and less obvious. Granados’s voluptuous, almost improvisatory Goyescas No 5, El amor y la muerte, gives the disc both a title and a passionate centrepiece. The concluding work is the second of Prokofiev’s “war sonatas”, No 7 in B flat, Op 83, spiky, turbulent, impassioned. A striking debut.• Organist John Challenger, assistant director of music at Salisbury Cathedral, is a youthful keyboard virtuoso of a different variety. Having already released a disc of Elgar, this latest is devoted to César Franck, played on Salisbury’s magnificent 1877 “Father” Henry Willis organ, and released on the cathedral’s own label. Renovations and modernisations aside, the instrument retains its original tonal colours, but one aim of this excellent disc is to raise funds for essential restoration. The booklet notes, quaintly, that “some wind leakage and action noise may be audible at times”, but you’d have to strain to notice. Continue reading… […]

Beyoncé: The Lion King: The Gift review – superstar shows impeccable taste

by Alexis Petridis on 19th July 2019 at 2:12 pm Her solo numbers are of varying quality, but Beyoncé gives a valuable platform to African artists in this collaborative Disney spinoff(Columbia Records)At first glance, The Lion King: The Gift doesn’t look like a new Beyoncé album so much as a demonstration of the singer’s astonishing star power. The Walt Disney Company is a famously unbending organisation, and yet Beyoncé appears to have got it to hand over the assets of the highest-grossing entertainment property in history so she can make an album, released in direct competition with the soundtrack of the new remake, complete with a cameo role for her seven-year-old daughter.Initially, it seems as if Beyoncé thinks the US writer – who recently opined that what was wrong with The Lion King remake was that they hadn’t changed the plot so that Beyoncé’s character was the leading role and replaced the songs with songs by Beyoncé – had a point. Her album feels like an alternative soundtrack. The opening Bigger and Find Your Way Back seem like riffs on Circle of Life – the former a slightly rambling self-help ballad that kicks into life three quarters of the way through; the latter an understated pop track underpinned by a rhythm track inspired by Afrobeats. Continue reading… […]

Ider: Emotional Education review – a hair’s breadth from brilliance

by Michael Hann on 19th July 2019 at 9:30 am (Glassnote)Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville’s debut album is full of good melodies and millennial anxiety. It just needs the grain of sand that makes the pearlThe debut album by Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville is a cigarette paper away from brilliance: all it lacks is little more colour, a little more variation, just the little spark that sets the extraordinary apart from the rest. Their territory is not a million miles from the 1975’s: millennial anxiety pops up time and time again (“I’m in my 20s, so I panic in every way / I’m so scared of the future, I keep missing today,” they sing on You’ve Got Your Whole Life Ahead of You Baby), and the way their harmonies fall sometimes calls to mind Matty Healy’s double-tracked vocal. Continue reading… […]

Sabaton: The Great War review – rage against the war machine

by Dave Simpson on 19th July 2019 at 9:00 am (Nuclear Blast) With pounding drums and demonic choirs, the Swedish power metal band deliver a dark, fascinating history lesson on the first world warSwedish power metal band Sabaton have created a rather specific oeuvre, based on modern warfare and the accompanying sacrifices and endeavours. Their ninth album reaches an apogee of human conflict, the first world war, in which an estimated nine million soldiers and almost as many civilians died. The band certainly don’t spare the horses. There are cannon and mortar fire effects. Songs rage about gas, trench warfare and the Fields of Verdun on the western front in 1916, where “the bombardment lasted all day long. Yet the forts were standing strong.” Continue reading… […]

Freya Ridings: Freya Ridings review – dull ballads by Florence-alike flop

by Laura Snapes on 19th July 2019 at 8:30 am Good Soldier RecordsThe minimalism of Ridings’ chilly piano balladry could have been bracingly different – if it wasn’t so dullLondon songwriter Freya Ridings found success thanks to Love Island, which played her song Lost Without You over some emotional moments in the last series.It’s hard to think of an artist further from Mallorca’s teeny bikinis, burnished tans and brash emoting: Ridings specialises in chilly, pained piano balladry, and her debut album plays like a 12-part audition to bag herself this year’s John Lewis Christmas ad. Continue reading… […]

Lingua Ignota: Caligula review – extreme music reckoning with misogyny

by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 19th July 2019 at 8:00 am (Profound Lore)Emphasising the rage and despair of survivors of abuse, Kristin Hayter uses a unique palette including metal, folk and noise Lingua Ignota, AKA Rhode Island musician Kristin Hayter, released one of 2018’s most startling and unfairly overlooked records in All Bitches Die. Written in the wake of domestic abuse, it built through images of horrific violence towards Holy Is the Name, an eerily beautiful ballad imagining her lying alongside her dead abuser, praising a scythe and axe. As a closing image it was emphatic, but her second album announces that any Hollywood narrative of overcoming trauma is a lie: abuse, she asserts, can linger for a lifetime. “Life is cruel and time heals nothing”, runs one bitter lyric. Continue reading… […]

Laura Jurd: Stepping Back, Jumping In review | John Lewis’s contemporary album of the month

by John Lewis on 19th July 2019 at 7:30 am (Edition Records)Another stylistic reinvention from the esteemed trumpeter moves from strident minimalism to orchestrated chaos and fidgety folkLaura Jurd is a staggeringly good trumpeter – a specialist in hard bop and modal jazz who could hold her own on any jazz bandstand on earth. But one gets the impression that she is constantly pushing against the constraints of whatever lineup she works in. She emerged through the ranks of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, leads the Mercury-nominated electronic jazz-rock band Dinosaur, featured in the atmospheric postrock outfit Blue-Eyed Hawk, and has reinvented classic trumpet works in association with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, most recently playing the Miles Davis role in a reimagining of Sketches of Spain.Jurd’s solo ventures, however, take her into even weirder territory. Her 2012 solo debut Landing Ground saw her add a string quartet to a jazz trio, while 2015’s Human Spirit pitted Jurd’s horn against the babbling, wordless vocals of Lauren Kinsella. Stepping Back, Jumping In is another massive stylistic reinvention, one that leaps from strident minimalism to orchestrated chaos via fidgety Bartók-like folk forgeries. Continue reading… […]

Ruders: The Thirteenth Child review | Andrew Clements’s classical album of the week

by Andrew Clements on 18th July 2019 at 2:00 pm Shafer/Mumford/Sewailam/Boehler/Bridge Academy Singers/Odense SO/Starobin/Shwartz(Bridge)Poul Ruders’ new opera, based on a little-known Brothers Grimm story, veers between neoromanticism and something a little edgier It’s very rare for a new opera to make it on to disc before it is seen in public. But Poul Ruders’ fifth stage work, due to receive its world premiere at Santa Fe Opera next week, is an exception. Continue reading… […]

The Flaming Lips: King’s Mouth review | Alexis Petridis’s album of the week

by Alexis Petridis on 18th July 2019 at 11:00 am (Bella Union)After a long spell of indulging in 24-hour jams and Stone Roses covers, Wayne Coyne’s band marshal their psychedelic powers for lush, honed songsBefore we turn to the Flaming Lips’ 15th studio album, it’s worth considering the extremely peculiar path that has brought the Oklahoma trio to this point. They began life as a minor psychedelic alt-rock band with seemingly zero mainstream commercial potential beyond hand-to-mouth survival, on the same US post-punk gig circuit that supported umpteen bands with zero mainstream commercial potential in the mid-80s. When they were signed to a major label in 1991, it looked like one of the grandest acts of folly yet in the crazed search to find the next Nirvana: their debut release under their new deal was an EP called Yeah I Know It’s a Drag, But Wastin’ Pigs Is Still Radical. Like a number of bands signed in the post-grunge goldrush, they had a minor novelty hit – 1994’s She Don’t Use Jelly – and that appeared to be that.And then the damnedest thing happened: the Flaming Lips released the extraordinary 1999 album The Soft Bulletin, developed an equally extraordinary live show and became something like a mainstream success. Its successor, 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, sold half a million copies in the US alone and won a Grammy, which the Flaming Lips seemed to take as a signal to let their imaginations run riot in the most confounding way. They released unwatchable Christmas films, 24-hour long songs, experimental double albums that frontman Wayne Coyne promoted with the suggestion that it “would have made a better single album if only the artist could have focused themselves”, a series of releases on which they covered The Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Stone Roses’ eponymous debut in their entirety, a collaboration with Ke$ha that was pressed on vinyl containing Ke$ha’s menstrual blood, etc. Continue reading… […]

Jaden: Erys review – dreamily creative but overwrought

by Tara Joshi on 14th July 2019 at 7:00 am (MSFTSMusic/Roc Nation)Given the success of his parents (Will and Jada Pinkett Smith), it’s perhaps not surprising that Jaden Smith radiates ambition. There’s the philanthropy and entrepreneurship, along with the acting – and the 21-year-old’s desire to be different is evident in his music too.Like Syre, his 2017 debut, Erys (see what he did there?) is a concept record, this time with Erys the lead character in a purgatorial LA. It’s full of epic, sprawling variety and, often, pretension, flitting between hard trap, bluesy post-rock and Auto-Tuned, vaguely conscious rap with psych-tinged beats and tubular bells. At best, it’s dreamily creative; at worst, overwrought. Continue reading… […]

Alan Barnes + Eleven: 60th Birthday Celebration review – happy returns all round

by Dave Gelly on 14th July 2019 at 7:00 am (Woodville)It was only after thinking back to all the albums he’s made, awards he’s won and gigs he’s enlivened, that I concluded it must be true: Alan Barnes, the earthly Peter Pan of British jazz, reaches his 60th birthday this month. The great thing about him is that he just loves jazz, all of it, and the evident pleasure it gives him to play it is catching. This is his birthday album, and all 11 members of his handpicked band, he says, are of like mind and “definitely not of the gloom school”.They’re also among the most admired players around today, most of them younger than the birthday boy himself. The tunes are from the year of his birth, 1959, an annus mirabilis, with more future jazz classics released than ever before or since. So we have pieces by Monk, Coltrane, Mulligan, Mingus and Jobim, all reimagined and arranged by Mark Nightingale. Continue reading… […]

Home listening: Clara Schumann, Gerald Finzi and more

by Stephen Pritchard on 14th July 2019 at 7:00 am Isata Kanneh-Mason gets to the heart of Clara Schumann in her fine recording debut• The pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason identifies strongly with Clara Schumann, not only through her music but also through her large family. Clara had eight children. Isata has six siblings, all musical, including the cellist of the moment, her brother Sheku. In notes for her debut recording of Clara’s work entitled Romance (Decca), Isata says: “It’s fascinating that Clara could maintain such a long career as a pianist while having a large family and coping with the difficulties of her husband’s mental illness. Her strength across her long life impressed, inspired and hugely intrigued me.”That inspiration comes across loud and clear in her grand, sweeping interpretation of the Piano Concerto in A minor, a hugely virtuosic piece that Clara began writing at the age of 13. With conductor Holly Mathieson and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Kanneh-Mason brings real verve and excitement to both opening allegro and the romping finale. Continue reading… […]

Africa Express: Egoli review – an end-to-end party album

by Kitty Empire on 14th July 2019 at 7:00 am (Africa Express)Five albums in, and Africa Express – Damon Albarn’s cross-cultural collaboration engine – has pitched up in Johannesburg, known as Egoli in Xhosa. It could be the best iteration yet of this speed-dating pop writer’s camp, in which a handful of UK and US artists (Nick Zinner, a returnee, plus Super Furry Gruff Rhys and grime MC Ghetts, to name three) and a 20-stong cast of local producers, musicians, singers and groove-bringers pull an album together in a week.Thanks to South Africa’s vast natural resources of dance music, both traditional and bleeding-edge, Egoli is a party album almost end to end, an update on Buraka Som Sistema’s Angolan-Portuguese rave dynamics and more like a Gorillaz record than anything you might normally file under “world music”. The frisky, blue-wigged Moonchild Sanelly locks horns with Infamous Boiz, innovators in South Africa’s gqom genre. Together they lead the charge for body-moving pop. Continue reading… […]

Banks: III review – her best album yet

by Damien Morris on 14th July 2019 at 7:00 am (Harvest)Jillian Rose Banks has spent the past six years making fascinating, sedated songs that vacillate between trap-pop and R&B. Now, with music’s dominant sound moving in her direction, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter’s third and most impressive album yet only lacks the helicopter hit that would lift her to a higher level of stardom.As with all the best sets, it’s coherent but not repetitive, the ghostly Auto-Tune choir, which features on most tracks, sighing and whispering encouragement behind Banks’s increasingly empowered words. There are shades of Bon Iver and Billie Eilish in her layered, subtle sound, but also a rare, steely delicacy all her own. Continue reading… […]

Palace: Life After review – indie trio find new force

by Phil Mongredien on 14th July 2019 at 7:00 am (Fiction)While Palace’s 2016 debut, So Long Forever, was an accomplished enough slice of grown-up indie, it did feel a little half-hearted in places. Although the songs concerned themselves with bereavement, the marital breakup of frontman Leo Wyndham’s parents and similarly weighty topics, at times there was a detachment to his delivery that seemed at odds with the subject matter. Loss is once again a recurrent theme on the London-based group’s’s follow-up – not least on the opening title track (“She’s watching from heaven/ She’s always beside you”) and epic closer Heaven Up There – but pleasingly, Wyndham sings with far greater confidence and conviction this time.With the band now a three-piece, following the departure of bassist Will Dorey, there’s an organic warmth to the arrangements on Life After, Rupert Turner’s guitar and Matt Hodges’ drums foregrounding Wyndham without ever stealing the spotlight, even on the more strident Running Wild (don’t be fooled by the title: it doesn’t represent a departure into freewheeling debauched rock-piggery). If there is a criticism it’s that, Martyr and Running Wild aside, there’s too little that really grabs the attention. Still, not many bands do better emotionally literate, melancholic indie at the moment. Continue reading… […]

Thom Yorke review – a bard for hard times

by Kitty Empire on 13th July 2019 at 1:01 pm Grande salle Pierre Boulez, Philharmonie de ParisDancing like no one’s watching, with club beats bubbling under, Yorke brings a happy, dreamy dimension to his solo tourAn enthusiastic amateur for years, Thom Yorke’s career as a dancer really took off in 2011. Back then, Radiohead – the band for whom he still acts as frontman – released a song called Lotus Flower from their eighth album, The King of Limbs.That album title, you suspect now, refers not just to a tree, but to Yorke’s own arms and legs. The song’s accompanying video was widely praised, and much remixed, for the fact that Yorke – a slight white Englishman in his 40s – was dancing like no one was watching to some high-concept choreography. It confirmed Yorke as a maker of music for bodies, not just for brains. He seemed, emphatically, like a guy who does yoga.It is not difficult to love Yorke. He is the Old Testament prophet of British music Continue reading… […]



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