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Album reviews from The Guardian Music

  • Busoni: Elegies, Toccata, etc review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
    by Andrew Clements on 5th August 2021 at 2:00 pm

    Peter Donohoe(Chandos)With music that demands immense virtuosity, Peter Donohoe meets each challenge fearlesslyIt’s now almost a century since Ferruccio Busoni died, yet fixing him into the history of early 20th-century music gets no easier. Fifty years ago Busoni was regularly included in surveys of musical modernism; never as a mainstream figure, but as one of its intriguing, forward-looking peripheral figures. Now, though, he seems more like a survivor of 19th-century romanticism, whose writings may have anticipated later developments in music, but with works that rarely delivered on their radical promise. With the exception of a handful of his Bach transcriptions, none of Busoni’s works could be regarded now as repertory pieces. Continue reading...

  • Fredo: Independence Day review – a stark, sombre return to core values
    by Alexis Petridis on 5th August 2021 at 11:00 am

    (RCA)The London rapper’s melancholy third studio album may not be a genre game-changer, but his renewed focus results in sharp street portraitureThe second Fredo album in the space of six months begins in portentous style. There’s a reading of an extract from an 1852 speech given by the former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass – a speech that contrasted the celebration of “freedom” on 4 July with the lot of the slave – followed by a churchy sounding organ playing a figure that distinctly recalls Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. “I know labels don’t want it to end this way,” offers the rapper on the chorus, “but I had to tell them it’s independence day.”It’s the kind of bullish declaration of freedom an artist might make had they recently quit, or been dropped by, a major label: a new beginning, free from the interference of A&R men and bean-counters suggesting you round your edges and demanding to know where the next hit is. But the advance stream of Independence Day arrives from Sony, bearing the logo of RCA, which has released every preceding Fredo album.Fredo doesn’t really bother with the kind of deep self-examination that Dave goes in for, nor any explicit politicking Related: Fredo: Money Can't Buy You Happiness review – melancholy rap realism Continue reading...

  • Welcome 2 America by Prince review – sub-par album from the vaults
    by Damien Morris on 1st August 2021 at 2:00 pm

    (Legacy Recordings)This shelved collection from 2010 is not peak Prince – and he knew itEvery few months someone eagerly forwards me that clip of Prince’s majestic While My Guitar Gently Weeps solo at the 2004 Hall of Fame. It’s ages since anyone sent me an unreleased Prince song with similar enthusiasm. Recently discovered in Prince’s vault, this album won’t change that.Recorded in a week by a scratch band, its songs went unreleased and unplayed on his 2010 Welcome 2 America tour. It’s not immediately obvious why. The intriguing title track takes some spiky if unfocused shots at America’s frailties, and Prince deliberates on race, politics and religion elsewhere, but there’s no controversy – or anything like 1981’s classic Controversy. Perhaps he realised that, after writing “Slave” on his face to protest about his multimillion-dollar record deal, his thoughts on that topic might not be well received. Continue reading...

  • Dave: We’re All Alone in This Together review – a rival to his classic debut
    by Kadish Morris on 1st August 2021 at 12:00 pm

    (Neighbourhood)With introspective but operatic rap, Dave paints pictures on an album that’s part confessional, part social critique In 2019, Dave’s Mercury prize- and Brit award-winning debut, Psychodrama, became a classic overnight; now it has a rival for introspection, operatic quality and wordplay. Tender piano arrangements, unadulterated storytelling and sermon-like verses flood this topical album that is part confessional poetry, part social commentary. “I’m a young black belligerent. Child of an immigrant. Lifestyle frivolous,” he raps on opener We’re All Alone. The seeming juxtaposition of these realities means that while he can be bragging about Rolexes with Stormzy on Clash, he’ll peel away at his own materialism on Survivor’s Guilt with the admission that, behind the glitz and glamour, he is “cryin’ in the driver’s seat”. It’s not all about the self. “My Jamaicans, the entire party, you can’t see?” he proclaims, honouring the island’s enormous contribution to British culture on the violin-rich Three Rivers, a track about migration that discusses the Windrush scandal.The highlight is Heart Attack, a glorious nine-minute stream of consciousness where his feelings spill out in abundance, on everything from knife crime to politicians doing cocaine. “Round here, the main way to provide for your kin is in a flick blade, little push-bike and a sim.” When Dave raps, he paints murals. James Blake production, Daniel Kaluuya cameos and Wizkid vocals are just surplus. Continue reading...

  • Trippers & Askers: Acorn review – delicate, literate Americana
    by Neil Spencer on 31st July 2021 at 3:00 pm

    (Sleepy Cat)Led by a Georgetown professor, this US collective impress with a subtle, ambient debut inspired by Octavia Butler’s Parable of the SowerAs social commentators and chroniclers of the times, many musicians could justly describe themselves as “cultural anthropologists”, but Jay Hammond is the real thing, a Georgetown professor when not making music. It’s perhaps no surprise that his group, a collective, not a fixed lineup, is named after a line in a Walt Whitman poem. This debut album also owes a debt to literature, to Parable of the Sower, Octavia K Butler’s dystopian novel, set in the 2020s but written in the 1990s, whose themes of corporate greed and eco-crisis resonate strongly today.The conceptual framework informs but doesn’t overwhelm an album of delicately played modern Americana. Opener Pulsing Places starts as a simple folk song to fingerpicked guitar before mutating into a shimmering homage to nature, with Rhodes piano and pedal steel creating a pulsing, imminent atmosphere. It proves a template for the other seven pieces here. Hammond’s baritone vocals are melodically modest, but immersed in an ambient echo chamber they ring with gravitas, and the playing is slinky and skilled. The songs are oblique but suggestive – “Turn up stones in forests of your making” – and the message, like the Acorn, is one of new beginnings. Continue reading...

  • Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever review – wiser and wilder
    by Kitty Empire on 31st July 2021 at 1:00 pm

    (Darkroom/Interscope/Polydor)The teenage alt-pop sensation grows up and gets loose on her bold, retro-toned second albumThe court of public opinion is never out of session, especially when the creative in the dock is a young woman. The second album by Billie Eilish – the still-teenage singer-songwriter and Grammy-magnet – lands amid a backlash to her success (seven Grammys to date; Happier Than Ever has had more Apple Music listeners add it to their libraries before its release than any other album).In recent weeks, Eilish has been accused of queerbaiting and tacit racism. Previously, there has been dismay over how she swapped the green hair and roomy hip-hop threads she wore for her debut, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go (2019), for platinum blond locks and even corsetry (for a British Vogue shoot).Eilish is both an old soul and a young woman coming into her sexuality, more able to spot lovers who want mirrors, not equals Continue reading...

  • Classical home listening: Isata Kanneh-Mason; Fretwork with Iestyn Davies; Mirga at the Proms
    by Fiona Maddocks on 31st July 2021 at 11:00 am

    Kanneh-Mason’s second album is a delight; Davies and Fretwork excel in early baroque German music; and the pick of Proms week one• With its brilliant fugue finale, Samuel Barber’s heavyweight yet economical Piano Sonata in E flat, Op 26 provides a strong backbone to Summertime (Decca), Isata Kanneh-Mason’s second solo album. This beguiling recital of music by (mainly) American composers, from Earl Wild’s jazz-rag reinvention of Gershwin’s Summertime and I Got Rhythm to Aaron Copland’s super-energetic The Cat and the Mouse, shows the young British pianist’s multifaceted musical personality. Continue reading...

  • Bleachers: Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night review – Jack Antonoff goes back to his roots
    by Kitty Empire on 31st July 2021 at 8:00 am

    (RCA)The super producer’s complex musical identity finds full expression on this highly personal third Bleachers albumNew Jersey native Jack Antonoff is best known as the affable super producer who has played midwife to works by Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey and Lorde. Big on tunes, Antonoff’s aesthetic nonetheless embodies intriguing contradictions: a pop maximalist, he’s also a guitar kid at heart, balancing look-at-me jazz hands with downplayed vocals and atmospheric fuzz. Back in 2014, Bleachers’ debut was full of nods to Bruce Springsteen. In 2020, the man himself turned up on backing vocals on the none-more-Boss track Chinatown.So many American acts have played Boss moves in recent years – the Killers, the War on Drugs – but this Bleachers album feels like it’s about showing someone where Antonoff grew up in Jersey; at least a third of it is powered by joyous E Street Band poses, its anthemics pleasantly furred up by vulnerability. It all feels highly personal, with Antonoff still channelling underdog status on songs such as How Dare You Want More. There’s plenty of filigree too: string arrangements by Annie “St Vincent” Clark, input from Warren Ellis and a writing credit for Zadie Smith. Continue reading...

  • Beatriz Ferreyra: Canto+ review – painterly daubs of found sound
    by John Lewis on 30th July 2021 at 8:00 am

    (Room40)Splicing and manipulating speech, urban noise and more, this collection shows how strangely beautiful the 84-year-old Argentinian composer’s musique concrète can beBeatriz Ferreyra turned 84 this year and is still composing music – dense, immersive sound sculptures – as the last surviving member from the field of mid-20th-century pioneers that included the likes of Edgard Varèse and Pierre Henry. She was born in Argentina but has spent the last six decades in France, where she relocated in 1961 to study with Nadia Boulanger and György Ligeti. Like many émigré composers based in Paris at that time – among them Stockhausen and Xenakis – Ferreyra was drawn into the orbit of Pierre Schaeffer, who was creating experimental montages of found sound using tape manipulation and calling it musique concrète. Continue reading...

  • Durand Jones & the Indications: Private Space review – post-pandemic catharsis
    by Dave Simpson on 30th July 2021 at 7:30 am

    (Dead Oceans/Colemine)The US retro-soul outfit expand into funk and disco, facing society’s hurt head on with songs of love and hopeFormed out of Indiana University’s Soul Revue and during rehearsals in a basement, Durand Jones & the Indications’ first two albums were unashamedly retro soul. After the second one, American Love Call, gained international attention and acclaim, the third broadens their interests considerably. With vocals shared between Jones (lower) and drummer Aaron Frazer (higher), they stretch from floaty melancholia to gossamer funk and disco, with synths and strings. As many as 19 musicians appear on their most lavish concoctions. Continue reading...

  • Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever review – inside pop stardom’s heart of darkness
    by Alexis Petridis on 29th July 2021 at 11:01 pm

    (Darkroom/Interscope)On perhaps the most anticipated album of 2021, Eilish uses subdued yet powerful songwriting to consider how fame has seeped into every corner of her life “I’m getting older,” sings Billie Eilish, who’s 19, on Happier Than Ever’s opening track. “I’ve got more on my shoulders”, she adds, which is certainly true. Her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? wasn’t just a huge global hit, but an album that significantly altered mainstream pop music. Two years on, streaming services are clotted with bedroom-bound, teenage singer-songwriters dolefully depicting their lives: anticipation for what the genuine article does next is understandably running very high.When We All Fall Asleep … was an album that turned universal teenage traumas – romance, hedonism, friendship groups – into knowingly lurid horror-comic fantasies, in which tongues were stapled, friends buried, hearses slept in and marble walls spattered with blood. That playfulness is less evident on its successor. It flickers occasionally, as on Overheated’s exploration of stardom in the era of social media, complete with death threats (“You wanna kill me? You wanna hurt me?” she mumbles, before giggling: “Stop being flirty”) or on NDA, where the “pretty boy” she entices home is required to sign the titular legal agreement before he leaves. But the overall tone is noticeably more sombre. Related: Billie Eilish: Your Power review – chilling ballad seeps under your skin Continue reading...

  • Mahler & Ye: The Song of the Earth review – song-symphony returns to its golden age
    by Andrew Clements on 29th July 2021 at 5:30 pm

    Michelle DeYoung/Brian Jagde/Liping Zhang/Shenyang/Shanghai SO/Long Yu(Deutsche Grammophon, two CDs)Xiaogang Ye sets the Tang-era Chinese poems that ultimately inspired Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde to colourful new musicThe texts that Mahler used for Das Lied von der Erde, his great song-symphony, came to him third-hand. The German words he set had been translated from the French, which was in turn versions of poems from the golden age of Chinese literature during the Tang dynasty (AD618-907). The convoluted process took them very far from the much more concise originals, and in 2005 the conductor Long Yu asked the composer Xiaogang Ye for an orchestral song cycle using the Chinese versions of the texts that Mahler set; he compares and contrasts the two works on this recording with the Shanghai Symphony. Continue reading...

  • Leon Bridges: Gold-Diggers Sound review – unashamedly grown-up songs for the soul
    by Damien Morris on 25th July 2021 at 2:00 pm

    (Columbia)The soul singer breaks out of his comfort zone with a sparkling collection that evades easy answersVintage soul singer Leon Bridges’s excellent albums Coming Home and Good Thing were smartly observed and performed. Still, there’s always the feeling that such reverential revivalism, no matter the quality of his songwriting and singing, winds up on a dead-end road called Bruno Mars Close. Could Bridges edge out of his comfort zone and focus his acute vision on more obscure terrain?Gold-Diggers Sound proves he can. Named after the Hollywood hotel studio bar where he worked and played for two years improvising and refining these delicately spacious songs, it’s a sparkling collection. Afrobeat, jazz, R&B, psych and even country flood its veins, following the subtler path of last year’s Sweeter, a lament for George Floyd. Reflective and regretful, it sets the tone for an album of questions with no easy answers. Related: Leon Bridges: ‘My transition was dishwasher one day, star the next’ Continue reading...

  • Anne-Marie: Therapy review – a missed opportunity
    by Michael Cragg on 25th July 2021 at 12:00 pm

    (Asylum)The singer’s vulnerable pop gets only the occasional look-in on a second album with too many guests at the wheelThere are moments on Anne-Marie’s delayed follow-up to 2018’s hit-heavy, platinum-selling debut, Speak Your Mind, where she seems to almost disappear. Front-loaded with guests, from YouTuber-turned-rapper KSI to ex-One Directioner Niall Horan, and zigzagging across genres (trap, UK garage, MOR pop-rock, to name but three), Therapy often feels unanchored; like a generic hits playlist on shuffle. Kiss My (Uh-Oh) has a lot of fun with a sample from Lumidee’s 2003 hit Never Leave You, but it’s completely dominated by guests Little Mix and their not inconsiderable vocals.Even when the featured artists are producers, as on Rudimental collaboration Unlovable, it still feels like a song swiped from their own album and bolted on here for streams. It’s a shame, because there are moments when Anne-Marie’s brand of plain-spoken yet vulnerable pop shines through, specifically on the pensive Breathing, which blooms into a gorgeous chorus, and the pulsating Better Not Together. Continue reading...

  • Yola: Stand for Myself review – retro country soul with bite
    by Kitty Empire on 25th July 2021 at 8:00 am

    (Easy Eye Sound)The underrated British singer, now based in Tennessee, returns with more eclectic inspirationsBy rights, Yola should be trumpeted as one of the UK’s hottest exports. Her 2019 debut Walk Through Fire was nominated for four Grammys; she plays Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Baz Luhrmann’s forthcoming Elvis biopic. But this Bristol singer, born Yolanda Quartey, has gone native in Nashville, pairing her elastic, retro voice with a vintage, soulful roll of the kind favoured by Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who returns as producer here.Stand for Myself remains attuned to these country-soul stylings, but the full ingredients list is long: old-timey doo-wop on Great Divide, Brandi Carlile backing vocals, plus subtle British inflections – really, Yola and Michael Kiwanuka need to talk. Laid atop these comforting sounds are bang up-to-date themes. Diamond Studded Shoes bristles at economic inequity. “Isolated, we hold in our fears,” she sings on the languorous Barely Alive. Continue reading...

  • Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain review – an invaluable compilation
    by Dave Gelly on 24th July 2021 at 3:00 pm

    (Decca)The burgeoning British jazz scene of the 60s and early 70s is fully captured on this fine double album featuring John Dankworth, Stan Tracey et alFor some time now, original British jazz albums dating from between about 1965 and 1972 have been changing hands at eye-watering prices. This was the period when a sudden eruption of new bands, with new sounds and new ideas, produced the first distinctly British jazz. Prominent amid the fuss were a bunch of young jazz composers – Mike Westbrook, Michael Gibbs, Neil Ardley, Michael Garrick and others, plus two seniors who led the way, John Dankworth and Stan Tracey. All these and more are represented in this double-album anthology.The thing that strikes me, after listening to all 14 tracks in one go, is how diverse they are. There’s Garrick’s playfulness, Westbrook’s dramatic flair, Ardley’s delicacy, Tracey’s unmistakable touch of Ellington, and so on. As for the players, practically the whole London modern jazz scene of the day can be found here somewhere, and since music colleges didn’t teach jazz then, they’re individuals to a man (and woman). The album comes in CD and vinyl formats, with in-depth notes, including a brief history of modern jazz in Britain. And don’t worry, you won’t have to bid for it. Continue reading...

  • Classical home listening: a fab piano four hands, Louise Farrenc and the Proms
    by Fiona Maddocks on 24th July 2021 at 11:00 am

    Kirill Gerstein and Ferenc Rados play Mozart; the French composer’s symphonies are a revelation; and it’s back to the Royal Albert Hall…• Playing piano four hands – two people, one piano – is among the more intimate forms of music-making. Daniel Barenboim never passes up a chance to play duets with his childhood friend Martha Argerich: you hear that intimacy in their recordings. But this “domestic” music can also sound grand, exuberant, revolutionary. In Mozart: Sonatas for Piano Four Hands KV521 & KV497 (Myrios Classics), the Russian-American pianist Kirill Gerstein sits down with Ferenc Rados, a Hungarian legend among musicians. His pupils, among others, include András Schiff. Consider that. The notes tell how a young Gerstein met Rados, now 86, at a masterclass at Prussia Cove, Cornwall in 2004. “My playing irritated [Rados] so much that these three hours seemed like a public dismemberment.” Gerstein went on to study with Ferenc, and calls him the biggest influence in his musical life.The C major sonata, here, is witty, bold, conversational, with plenty of spontaneous ornaments from Gerstein. The F major (with Ferenc playing “primo”) has an almost symphonic grandeur and weight. Documenting this reluctant maestro’s nuanced, muscular playing for posterity was Gerstein’s aim. The disc is one to treasure. Continue reading...

  • Dave: We’re All Alone in This Together review – an eerie, anguished triumph
    by Rachel Aroesti on 23rd July 2021 at 1:38 pm

    The rapper’s long-awaited second album darts between hedonistic swagger and unsparing social commentary to cement his place at rap’s apexIt’s hard to conceive of a better reception for an album than that which greeted Psychodrama, Streatham rapper Dave’s 2019 debut. It won both the muso-friendly Mercury prize and the populist-minded Brit award for album of the year (a feat previously managed by only Arctic Monkeys’ debut); debuted at No 1 and earned a tranche of five-star reviews. And its impact extended well beyond the music industry. Delivered through the framework of a therapy session, Psychodrama offered nuanced, affecting social commentary and a rich seam of political protest: during a performance of the standout track, Black, at last year’s Brits, the musician added new lyrics – including the claim that “our prime minister is a real racist”. To many Dave’s remarks made perfect sense: this was a young Black man schooling politicians and the public on racism, injustice and poverty with intelligence, logic and empathy – the polar opposite of a Tory soundbite. Related: Dave meets Marcus Rashford: ‘I rate you so highly, because you take football seriously’ Continue reading...

  • Mega Bog: Life, and Another review – a beautiful, bewildering fantasy
    by Rachel Aroesti on 23rd July 2021 at 8:00 am

    (Paradise of Bachelors)Meaning eludes the listener in Erin Birgy’s sixth album, an oblique, jazzy folk-pop offering that, with time, reveals itselfFrom the grammatical quirks of the title onwards, every facet of Life, and Another seems designed to bewilder. The sixth album from Nevada’s Erin Birgy – whose prehistoric-sounding moniker isn’t exactly an exercise in lucidity either – tells stories in an oblique, faintly mystical way: lyrics teem with odd images (“try to see people in the spiders chasing you”) and random characters (Debbie Dubai) appear without explanation; suggestions of sentiment ripple through, and snippets of comprehensible thought surface sporadically. Continue reading...

  • Various artists: Music From the Arab World, Part 2 review | global album of the month
    by Ammar Kalia on 23rd July 2021 at 7:30 am

    (Habibi Funk)With nods to Bob Marley, the Bee Gees and more, this compilation charts cross-cultural influence on north African and Middle Eastern actsSince 2015, Berlin-based label Habibi Funk has carved out a specific and increasingly popular niche by reissuing lesser-known records by artists from north Africa and the Middle East. Treading carefully around the colonial resonances of white-owned labels purporting to “discover” these acts, label founder Jannis Stürtz splits profits 50-50 between the label and the artists (or their estates).The label released its first Eclectic Selection compilation in 2017 – one that featured everything from Fadoul’s Casablancan funk to Algerian Ahmed Malek’s expansive instrumentals. The cover of this second instalment encapsulates its culture-spanning ethos, depicting Malek at an ice-cream bar in Osaka in 1970 – a trip he later said came to inspire his own varied approach to genre. Malek is featured here again, his track Casbah providing a sprightly horn arrangement over a loose disco groove. Fadoul also reappears with the driving funk of Ahl Jedba, his throaty vocals displaying his contemporaneous kinship with James Brown’s own delivery. Continue reading...

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