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June 2019 album reviews

June 2019 album reviews
Album reviews


  • Dausgaard/Appl/BBCSSO: Kullervo review – thrilling and intense account of Sibelius’ epic
    by Erica Jeal on 27th June 2019 at 2:30 pm (Hyperion)Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony conjure grand landscapes and a rousing plot with Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl the persuasive soloistsSibelius had mixed feelings about Kullervo, the work that in 1892 marked his first big breakthrough – and so do today’s concert programmers. Even now, when the composer’s seven symphonies are standard repertoire, it’s not often performed. Sibelius described it as a symphony, but it is really more a set of five tone poems on an epic scale; its 75-minute length is one reason it does not get more performances.That said, listening to Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, it’s hard to know what one would cut. The players are in prime storytelling mode, painting in dark but clear colours, conjuring up the landscapes of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. Dausgaard has the measure of this music, with its slow, tick-tocking, inextinguishable pulse, its sense of fast movement against vast immobility: a bird skimming low across a Nordic lake. There’s a crackle of excitement every time he shifts up a gear and the orchestral cogs find their groove. Continue reading… […]

  • Prince: Originals review – delicious demos from the vaults
    by Emily Mackay on 23rd June 2019 at 7:00 am (Warner Bros/Tidal) In 2017, Universal acquired rights to Prince’s much-whispered-about music vault, assuring worried fans they were “committed to honouring Prince’s legacy and vision by creating the highest quality products and experiences”. Words to strike a chill, but so far they’ve stepped respectfully: first Piano and a Microphone 1983, and now Originals, a selection of demos given to other artists, focused on Prince’s mid-80s peak.Ethics aside, any such release is necessarily academic, rarely an epiphany, and the vocal quality varies. Prince’s tightly controlled production style, down to his proteges’ smallest inflections – the Time’s Gigolos Get Lonely Too is a spot-the-difference exercise – also means there’s little that differs substantially from its more polished released version, delicious as it is to hear him sing Martika’s blissful Love… Thy Will Be Done. Continue reading… […]

  • Octavian: Endorphins review – straddles genres and the Thames
    by Kitty Empire on 23rd June 2019 at 7:00 am (Black Butter)Although Octavian might come out of territory renowned for grime – south London – the Anglo-French artist is a future-facing MC. His second mixtape confidently straddles not just the Thames (north Londoner Skepta figures on the previously released, ice-cold Bet) but the Atlantic, enlisting US guest rappers and reaching instinctually for trap beats on tracks such as Lit, rather than grime BPMs.Auto-Tune smears his sing-song vocals, to the point where all this hybridisation might add up to a loss of identity. Somehow, Octavian manages to buck these anonymising tendencies. His pop melodies are destined to travel, but retain an unapologetic London attitude and an experimental flair; much here is insidiously danceable. Continue reading… […]

  • Hot Chip: A Bath Full of Ecstasy review – seventh heaven
    by Damien Morris on 23rd June 2019 at 7:00 am (Domino)I remember walking out of one of Hot Chip’s earliest gigs, a bafflingly hapless attempt to locate common ground between Prince and Pet Shop Boys. By 2006’s brilliant breakthrough album, The Warning, they’d long proved me wrong, and this seventh set is as good as anything the London quintet have done. Its knowing title reminds you that they’ve always been a subversive band – the hymns to marital monogamy on 2010’s One Life Stand are among this decade’s most quietly transgressive acts.These nine new songs see the band’s gift for melody and grasp of pop’s dynamics tweaked into transcendent shapes by the late house master Philippe Zdar and xx producer Rodaidh McDonald. The first five are floor-ready bangers, while the rest lean more towards yacht pop Daft Punk or Röyksopp, and the best bits feature some sort of house pulse. House is about tension and release, the ecstatic catharsis of moments such as Hungry Child’s towering mid-track drop, but it’s also about the comforting predictability of that pulsing beat, and that’s where Hot Chip sound most at home. Continue reading… […]

  • Luedji Luna: Um Corpo No Mundo review – sultry debut with a message
    by Neil Spencer on 23rd June 2019 at 7:00 am (Sterns) This twentysomething Brazilian broke big in 2016 with the title track of this debut, launched through YouTube with an arthouse video that revealed a singer with a model’s looks, a dancer’s grace and a sharply honed political sensibility. Um Corpo No Mundo (A Body in the World) is a call for racial and gender respect, delivered with sultry insouciance to an airy samba melody and a simple backing of guitar, bass and percussion.The album, much garlanded in Brazil, follows suit, celebrating an Afro-Brazilian heritage felt keenly via Luna’s politically active parents (who gave her her African first name) and her northern hometown of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil’s most “African” region. That legacy is most apparent on Banho de Folhas (Bathed in Leaves), with its soukous guitar, and in the conga-led Bahian rhythms elsewhere. Continue reading… […]

  • Home listening: sweet and low-down
    by Fiona Maddocks on 23rd June 2019 at 7:00 am Hugo Ticciati and friends dig deep into the chaconne, while I Gemelli unearth the Vepsers of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani• From the Ground Up (Signum Classics) is the witty title of an imaginative album by the British violinist Hugo Ticciati, with help from Chilean-Swedish mezzo-soprano Luciana Mancini, New York rapper Baba Israel, the British actor Samuel West and various musicians – the O/Modernt chamber orchestra – playing anything from theorbo to electric guitar to percussion, with drones, throat singing and improvisations. The disc’s capacious theme is the ground bass (in which a melodic pattern recurs in the bass part) through musical history, from early Spanish chaconnes, or chacona, to Purcell (Dido’s Lament Remix) to Bach’s Partita in D minor for Solo Violin, BWV 1004.The ensemble’s Swedish name means Un/Modern, encouraging a refreshing exchange of past and present styles. It works, helped by injections of new sounds from composers Dušan Bogdanović and Johannes Marmén, all beautifully played. Continue reading… […]

  • Georgia Anne Muldrow: Vweto II review – kaleidoscopic, sunshine timewarp jazz
    by Aimee Cliff on 21st June 2019 at 9:30 am (Mello Music Group)A sprawling, funky blur of past musical references, through a 2050 filter, Muldrow is never done experimenting As the first track on LA jazz singer and multi-intrumentalist Georgia Anne Muldrow’s 18th album, Almost Trendy could be read as a mission statement from an artist who works happily and prolifically in the fringes. While jazz seeps slowly back into the mainstream, Muldrow’s esoteric experimentations refuse to sit on-trend. Continue reading… […]

  • The Raconteurs: Help Us Stranger review – classic rock undone by aggro
    by Rachel Aroesti on 21st June 2019 at 8:30 am (Third Man Records) Jack White’s eccentricity is well contained by his bandmates, but the macho politics undermine the tautness When the Raconteurs released their debut in 2006, co-founder Jack White was emerging from his imperial phase – the White Stripes would put out their final record the following year. The four-man side project initially seemed like a release valve for White, an outlet for the ideas the self-imposed strictures of the White Stripes had stymied. A decade on, however, and a Raconteurs reunion feels like the inverse: as White surfaces from a period of unfettered self-indulgence – three solo albums in and he’s well-established as an eccentric and largely irrelevant loose cannon – a new album provides an opportunity for some restraint. Continue reading… […]

  • Mark Ronson: Late Night Feelings review – the tracks of his tears
    by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 21st June 2019 at 8:00 am (Columbia)Midas-touch producer’s divorce album moves from reggaeton to yacht pop with vocalists Yebba, Miley Cyrus and more – it’s oddly old-fashionedEarlier this year, Mark Ronson lamented the state of modern pop in a Guardian interview, saying songs are currently produced to sound “as loud as possible coming out of an iPhone”. His new album duly feels like a pop album of old, centred around some truly excellent singles, and padded with filler. Continue reading… […]

  • Merz/Laraaji/Ismaily: Dreams of Sleep and Wakes of Sound review | John Lewis’s contemporary album of the month
    by John Lewis on 21st June 2019 at 7:30 am (Dampfzentrale)Laraaji’s blissful autoharp overcomes an industrial guitar-feedback dystopia provided by Merz on this filmic album The starting point for this transatlantic project was an idle thought from the British outsider artist Conrad Lambert, AKA Merz. He semi-seriously conjured up the mythic genre of “industrial-devotional”, one that combined spiritual music with the relentless grind of industry. When appointed artist in residence at the Dampfzentrale arts centre in Bern, Switzerland, Merz decided to explore this idea for a live show, drafting in the Pakistani-American musician Shahzad Ismaily, an old sidekick of his, and Laraaji, the mystic busker, laughter therapist and pioneer of a mbient music from New York. Both provide a twist on the “devotional” side of this equation, accompanying Merz across nine meditative tone poems. Continue reading… […]

  • Holliger/Kurtág: Zwiegespräche review | Andrew Clements’s classical album of the week
    by Andrew Clements on 20th June 2019 at 2:00 pm Holliger/Schupbach/Wegener/Molinari (ECM)Composer and oboist Heinz Holliger and kindred spirit György Kurtág celebrate the former’s works with peerless rapportHeinz Holliger is not only the greatest oboist of the last half century, but he has also emerged as one of the leading European composers of his generation, even though inthe UK at least his music remains little known, and a number of his major works, including his first opera Schneewittchen, and his superb Violin Concerto, have yet to be performed here. Holliger was 80 last month, and ECM, which has recorded so many of his works, has marked the occasion with Zwiegespräche (dialogues). It’s a collection mostly of miniatures, 33 of them, almost all including oboe, by Holliger and his kindred musical spirit, György Kurtág, that is followed by one of Holliger’s earliest works, the solo-oboe sonata he began in 1956. Continue reading… […]

  • Black Midi: Schlagenheim review | Alexis Petridis’s album of the week
    by Alexis Petridis on 20th June 2019 at 11:00 am (Rough Trade)This hyped quartet of Brit School graduates deliver some powerful kicks between the clattering, self-satisfied racketsCroydon performing arts institution the Brit School has long been a major pop bugbear: criticised by everyone from Arctic Monkeys to Ed Sheeran, charged with turning out a certain kind of artist. That’s perhaps a reductive view, but it certainly seems to major in earnest, pop-facing vocalists, from Adele to Jessie J to Leona Lewis. If nothing else, the swift rise of Black Midi puts paid to that idea: Brit-schooled they may be, but pop-facing they are not.In interviews, the quartet have discussed their love of 20th century classical music from Bartók to Alfred Schnittke, and Schlagenheim is an album that waits a mere three minutes and 23 seconds before hitting you with its first burst of free improvisation: you can tell it’s free improvisation because, for some reason, rock bands always sound exactly the same when they indulge in free improvisation, the effect of unburdening themselves from the shackles of structure and melody and allowing their imaginations to drift without limitation invariably resulting in a very particular kind of clattery racket. Related: Best albums of 2019 so far Continue reading… […]

  • Home listening: a Thomas Arne world premiere and more
    by Stephen Pritchard on 16th June 2019 at 7:00 am Top soloists bring Thomas Arne’s The Judgment of Paris to life; plus, an evening with the outstanding Schumann Quartet• The fire that ravaged the first Covent Garden theatre in 1808 destroyed more than an auditorium; it claimed much of Britain’s 18th-century musical heritage, including a pipe organ Handel had played, and many full scores. Thomas Arne’s opera Artaxerxes and his masque of 1742, The Judgment of Paris, were victims of the flames, but fortunately parts of the masque had been published, and Congreve’s text still existed, so in the 1970s editor Ian Spink was able to rebuild its recitatives and choruses. Now, 40 years later, this charming piece is available in a world premiere recording from the Dutton label that features a first-rate lineup of soloists.Tenor Ed Lyon sings Paris, the shepherd charged with the decidedly un-PC task of choosing which goddess is the sexiest. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it; no wonder he sings “Save me from Excess of Joy”. Sopranos Mary Bevan, Susanna Fairbairn and Gillian Ramm as, respectively, Venus, Pallas and Juno, vie with each other for the prize, with tenor Anthony Gregory as Mercury, Jove’s messenger. It’s all sung with a suitable lightness of touch, with sparkling accompaniment from the Brook Street Band, all artfully directed by John Andrews. Continue reading… […]

  • Kate Tempest: The Book of Traps and Lessons review – personal and optimistic
    by Phil Mongredien on 16th June 2019 at 7:00 am (Fiction)While Kate Tempest’s first two albums– 2014’s Everybody Down and 2016’s Let Them Eat Chaos – were each absorbing and impressive enough to be Mercury-nominated, there was a sense that at times their discordant post-dubstep soundscapes obscured the power of her lyrics. Her third finds Tempest hooking up with Rick Rubin, and the effect is revelatory. Rubin has largely excised the beats and prominent basslines that defined her earlier work, stripping back the songs to their bare bones. Instead, minor chords abound amid muted touches of piano and sombre strings (and, on I Trap You, what might as well be a field recording from an old-fashioned fairground). By the time, six songs in, Too Late turns out to be entirely spoken word, the absence of any backing barely registers.She’s moved on lyrically too. Where she previously chronicled the hopes and fears of austerity Britain through the lives of various characters, The Book of Traps… is at once both more personal and more optimistic. She addresses the normally unspoken toxic relationship between love and power, most notably on I Trap You, and the shadow of Brexit looms large. And yet amid the bleakness there are regular countervailing flashes of positivity, never more so than on closer People’s Faces, which over five uplifting minutes takes us from lamenting that “my country’s coming apart” to the observation that “there is so much peace to be found in people’s faces”. It’s a touching end to an always thought-provoking record. Continue reading… […]

  • Bill Callahan: Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest review – a sweet and sly return
    by Kitty Empire on 16th June 2019 at 7:00 am (Drag City) Related: Bill Callahan: ‘I can’t die – life is too good, it can’t end’ “The panic room is now a nursery,” sings veteran leftfield tunesmith Bill Callahan on Son of the Sea. It’s just one instance of pregnant understatement on a 20-track album that ends this extraordinary American songwriter’s six years away from the release schedules. Life happened: marriage, a baby son, the death of his mother and now, a purple patch of tunes that combine the allusive rigour of his finest work with a looser, chatty style. “It’s nice to be writing again,” he offers on Writing. The Ballad of the Hulk, a meditation on anger, playfully details how Callahan “shared a tailor” with the superhero. Continue reading… […]

  • Fred Hersch & the WDR Big Band: Begin Again review – lyrical and terrifying
    by Dave Gelly on 16th June 2019 at 7:00 am (Palmetto)When the conversation turns to contemporary jazz pianists, the name of Fred Hersch is apt to be left out. Not because he’s unknown – far from it – but because his constant, undemonstrative presence is too often taken for granted. His best work has been as a soloist or with his piano trio, performing his own shapely, lyrical compositions. He is also a much-praised accompanist to singers. If all this seems a little bland, I suggest you listen to a track here, entitled Out Someplace, subtitled Blues for Matthew Shepard, in memory of a gay man murdered in Wyoming in 1998. A more angry and disturbing piece it’s difficult to imagine, made positively terrifying by the orchestration of Vince Mendoza.Indeed all nine of Hersch’s compositions here, some already well known, gain in colour from Mendoza’s arrangements, not to mention the playing of the Cologne-based WDR band. The sheer brilliance of some European radio bands ensures a regular flow of top US musicians, eager to make use of their talents. The same was true of our own BBC Big Band, but things seem to have gone suspiciously quiet there lately. Continue reading… […]

  • Bruce Springsteen: Western Stars review – quintessentially Boss
    by Neil Spencer on 16th June 2019 at 7:00 am (Columbia Records)Couched in the orchestral “countrypolitan” style of George Jones and Glen Campbell at the tail-end of the 1960s, Springsteen’s first album in five years delivers a sound like little else in his extensive catalogue, brimming with lush strings and French horns. Its 13 songs, however, remain quintessentially Bruce, packed with lost highways, girls in parking lots, lonely towns and abandoned motels, with a cast of drifters, blue-collar heroes and bruised romantics.If the songcraft is often inspired, the arrangements are erratic. Like 1982’s Nebraska on orchestral steroids, the booming strings are too grandiose for austere vignettes of a smashed-up stuntman or an over-the-hill actor reminiscing about “being shot by John Wayne” for a drink. A promising cello piece on Chasin’ Wild Horses soon dissolves into a retro Hollywood western score, while the faux Tex-Mex of Sleepy Joe’s Cafe is a misfit. Better are the more subtle touches, augmented by some lovely, plaintive pedal steel, on numbers like Somewhere North of Nashville and Hello Sunshine. Springsteen sings brilliantly throughout, gritty on Hitch Hikin’, Orbison-operatic on the more elaborate pieces, and though the high notes can prove elusive, he retains the cadence of a born narrator. Brave and intriguing. Continue reading… […]

  • Bikini Kill review – return of the riot grrl revolutionaries
    by Kitty Empire on 15th June 2019 at 1:00 pm O2 Academy Brixton, LondonThe second coming of Bikini Kill is a gloriously urgent call to arms from a band that have lost none of their visceral powerIn their heyday, Bikini Kill – reunited and on stage in the UK after 23 years – were more than just a punk band. They proposed nothing less than “revolution, girl-style, now”. They stared down misogyny with playground taunts and believed in creating an alternative to mainstream culture (and “alternative” music, for that matter) by foregrounding participation, not virtuosity.But Bikini Kill rocked, too, making for a tight four-piece, reminiscent of Washington DC hardcore legends Minor Threat fronted by Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex: loud and fast, sarcastic and confrontational, equal parts burning sincerity and goofy charm. The first of two nights in this large south London venue, bigger than any they ever played in their first incarnation, retains all those hallmarks. Hanging like a miasma over the simple stage – there are lights, and that’s it – is the weight of expectation of a generation of fans too young to have seen their heroes the first time.Twenty years on, their outpourings of frustration, pain and challenge have not mellowed Continue reading… […]

  • Baroness: Gold & Grey review – ambitious rockers go beyond metal
    by Dave Simpson on 14th June 2019 at 9:30 am (Abraxan Hymns) The Philadephia-based quartet have found a new sense of purpose on this more psychedelic fifth albumBaroness have certainly paid their dues. A bad 2012 bus crash, resulting in traumatic injuries and the departure of three members, played havoc with the remaining lineup’s mental health and threatened to derail a promising career. On their fifth album, though, they sound like a band who aren’t just determined to make up for lost time, but who have realised what is important and want to make the best possible statement they can. Continue reading… […]

  • Bill Callahan: Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest review – brilliantly sly celebration of family and the infinite
    by Laura Snapes on 14th June 2019 at 9:00 am (Drag City)Humour and subtly shattering insights into a new life as a parent add profundity to Callahan’s expansive albumOnline, the “wife guy” gets a bad rap – he is “worthy of suspicion because he appears to be using his devotion to his wife for personal gain”, as the New York Times put it. So Bill Callahan’s latest may arouse suspicion – 20 songs from his perspective as a new husband and father. But despite brilliantly sly lines like, “I got the woman of my dreams / And an imitation Eames” (What Comes After Certainty), Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest is neither uxorious nor queasy.Instead, the 53-year-old uses his surprising (to him) capacity for devotion to reflect on his responsibility to it, recognising his goodness as stemming from female forces (his wife and late mother; the gifts of song and sunrise on Writing and Morning Is My Godmother), and questioning masculinity’s innate violence (Released, an angry, politicised allegory) and isolationism. This, he realises, he can change: “The house is full of whatever I bring to the table,” he sings on Son of the Sea; Tugboats and Tumbleweeds offers advice to his young son. Continue reading… […]



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