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Album reviews from The Guardian Music

  • Yaya Bey: The Things I Can't Take With Me review – smooth, candid soul
    by Kadish Morris on 11th April 2021 at 12:00 pm

    (Big Dada)The New Yorker shows her gift for storytelling on an EP that blends the personal and the politicalYaya Bey’s music is rooted in something far gutsier than just smoky vocals. The Queens-born singer takes inspiration from black feminist theory, with her last album, The Many Alter-Egos of Trill’eta Brown, drawing on the writings of Audre Lorde. She often blends the personal (bad breakups) and the political (black liberation) with poetic wordplay.The Things I Can’t Take With Me is a smooth soul record boasting a conversational delivery reminiscent of Jill Scott and Noname. On The Root of a Thing, Bey is candid about her parents: “I never seen my daddy treat a woman good.” She’s at her best when she’s being transparent: while her vocal range isn’t mind-blowing, her storytelling is absorbing. Industry Love/A Protection Spell, about a man with a collapsed moral compass working in music, could be the plot line of a short film.This EP came together unexpectedly during the making of a forthcoming studio album, and it sometimes shows. You Up? and We’ll Skate Soon feel like unfinished drafts in comparison with the bold and brass-heavy Fxck It Then and September 13th – a song that knows exactly what it wants to be: a heartbreak classic. “Loving you baby been gruesome,” Bey sings, with the hindsight of an old wounded soul. Continue reading...

  • Matthew E White and Lonnie Holley: Broken Mirror: A Selfie Reflection review – a moving collaboration
    by Kitty Empire on 11th April 2021 at 8:00 am

    (Domino)White’s funky discord finds its perfect soulmate in Holley’s melodies on this semi-improvised five-track outingThe singer and visual artist Lonnie Holley endured an Alabama childhood so appalling it would strain credulity in fiction. He found success in later life as an instinctual artist, creating work from waste. Since 2012, when he made his recorded music debut, Holley’s second creative career has flourished as his free-associating, jazz speak-sing delivery has found new contexts.This five-track collaboration with Virginia-based producer Matt White is semi-improvised, with Holley decanting the content of his notebooks in loose, inspired, one-take flurries. His open-ended melodies touch on humanity’s solipsism, its over-reliance on tech, on our poisoned air and water. Throughout, there runs a deep vein of Afro-futurism that connects this non-aligned music to electric jazz and P-Funk; Gil Scott-Heron’s 2010 album, I’m New Here, is a close cousin. Continue reading...

  • Invisible Music by Polly Paulusma review – a vibrant celebration of Angela Carter the folkie
    by Neil Spencer on 10th April 2021 at 3:00 pm

    (Wild Sound/One Little Independent)The novelist’s little known early days on the folk scene are explored on this album of songs and readingsThe folk-singing interests of the novelist Angela Carter are usually confined to the margins of literary commentary, but alongside her first husband the mistress of magical realism was an ardent enthusiast of traditional song. The pair ran a folk club and made field recordings of voices such as “tinker singer” Davey Stewart, from whom Carter claimed you could “learn more about style than from books”. She herself sang and played concertina.The singer-songwriter Polly Paulusma, on this her eighth album, explores the connections between Angela the folkie and Carter the feted novelist – Paulusma recently completed a PhD on the subject. On offer are antique ballads such as Reynardine and The Streams of Lovely Nancy, some delivered a cappella with an admirably light touch, others to bass, fiddle, bodhrán and guitar. The songs are interspersed with readings of Carter’s work by Paulusma, the singer Kathryn Williams and novelist Kirsty Logan. Continue reading...

  • Taylor Swift: Fearless (Taylor’s Version) review – a labour of revenge, but also of love
    by Kitty Empire on 10th April 2021 at 1:00 pm

    (Republic) Painstakingly re-recording her breakthrough 2008 album to hit back at her music business enemies proves a fruitful endeavour for the songwriterSince about 2018, Taylor Swift has been at the centre of arguably the most riveting contract dispute in music business history since Prince wrote “slave” on his cheek. It has been a conflict fought in public, in detail. No precis does the nuances justice, but the crux of Swift’s unhappiness is that the rights to her first six albums were sold out from under her nose when her former label, Big Machine, was acquired by a man she regards as an enemy: Scooter Braun.Braun is Justin Bieber’s manager; more pertinently, he also managed the rapper Kanye West at a time when West was tormenting Swift – another vexed tale wrapped around this one in a double helix. The antagonism between Swift and West began when he interrupted her acceptance speech for best female video at the VMAs in 2009. The video in question was You Belong With Me – a hit from Swift’s hugely successful 2008 album Fearless. That album has now been totally re-recorded by Swift and was released on Friday.If you were trying to sell this as an art forgery, someone would eventually twig Continue reading...

  • Schubert: Winterreise review – high drama from Joyce DiDonato
    by Fiona Maddocks on 10th April 2021 at 11:00 am

    (Erato)DiDonato, Nézet-SéguinThe star mezzo, with illustrious accompaniment, makes Schubert’s great song cycle her ownThe wanderer in Schubert’s Winterreise, a cycle of 24 songs for voice and piano, travels a landscape of bleak hopes and frozen tears. Written for tenor but sung by voices of every range, it has long attracted mezzo-sopranos, from Brigitte Fassbaender to Alice Coote. The latest is the American star Joyce DiDonato, who unveiled her reading at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2019 (when this recording was made). Her illustrious, reflective partner is the Canadian conductor-pianist Yannick Nézet-SéguinSome of Wilhelm Müller’s poems refer to “he” or “she”, but this suffering soul could be any one of us. Drawing on her formidable range of vocal colour, DiDonato captures the drama within each song, and across the cycle: the dislocated mood of Erstarrung (Numbness), the simplicity, then hopelessness, of Der Lindenbaum (The Linden Tree), the gothic terror of Irrlicht (Will-o’-the-wisp), the pounding pathos of Die Post (The Mail Coach). Any fan will enjoy the insight DiDonato brings. You might go back to your favourite tenor afterwards, but you’ll have thought about this masterpiece anew. Continue reading...

  • Nik Bärtsch: Entendre review | John Lewis's contemporary album of the month
    by John Lewis on 9th April 2021 at 8:00 am

    (ECM)The European jazz star’s austerely named compositions can be hard work – but reworking them for solo piano frees them upThe Swiss pianist Nik Bärtsch is many things: a club proprietor (he describes his Zurich venue Exil as a “self-perpetuating organism for creating experimental music”), an academic (he studied linguistics and philosophy and currently lectures on aesthetics) and a martial artist (with a black belt in aikido). For 20 years, he’s also been one of the biggest names on the European jazz circuit, but his music has always drawn from myriad sources – the spiky modernism of Bartók and Stravinsky, the polyrhythmic funk of bands like the Meters and proggy indie-rock bands such as Battles and Tortoise. Continue reading...

  • Peggy Seeger: First Farewell review - lively, blunt and irreverent songs from folk’s first lady
    by Jude Rogers on 9th April 2021 at 7:30 am

    (Red Grape)This is Seeger’s final album of originals: a shame, as her take on feminism, ecology and life’s trials is witty and wickedFirst Farewell is a wilfully playful title for Seeger’s 24th solo album. It hints towards the song her late husband Ewan MacColl famously wrote for her, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, and the way she laughs on its cover, her eyes to the sky, suggests she’s not done yet at 85. Continue reading...

  • Taylor Swift: Fearless (Taylor’s Version) review – old wounds take on new resonances | Alexis Petridis' album of the week
    by Alexis Petridis on 9th April 2021 at 4:00 am

    After her masters were sold to an old foe, Swift’s re-recording project starts with her 2008 opus on the teen-girl experience – an apposite contrast to venal male industry executivesIn 2012, Def Leppard announced in robust style that they would be rerecording their biggest hits. It was provoked by a dispute with their former record label, designed to “punch them in the bollocks”, said frontman Joe Elliott. “We fucking built that company. We built their penthouse sushi bar, wherever it may be, and they just treated us like shit.”This is a sentiment with which Taylor Swift may empathise. She hasn’t actually threatened harm to the testicles of her former label boss Scott Borchetta – and Scooter Braun, the manager who bought the master rights to her first six albums, then sold them to an investment fund for an estimated $300m – but if an album ever seemed like a musical equivalent of a painful knee to the groin then Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is it. Related: Taylor Swift: ‘I was literally about to break’ Continue reading...

  • Schulhoff: Flammen review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
    by Andrew Clements on 8th April 2021 at 3:20 pm

    Very/Vermillion/Friede/ORF Vienna RSO/Bertrand de Billy(Capriccio, two CDs)Schulhoff’s work, recorded here in a staging from 2006, is a surreal reworking of Don Juan, with expressionist, neoclassicist and jazz elementsCzech-born Erwin Schulhoff died of tuberculosis in a concentration camp in Bavaria in 1942; he was 48. His only opera, Flammen (Flames), had been composed between 1923 and 1929, and was first performed in Brno in 1932. Schulhoff’s music was condemned as degenerate by the Nazis, and it was not until the 1990s that Flammen was staged again (in Leipzig), and also recorded in Berlin under John Mauceri for Decca’s Entartete Musik series. The Capriccio set comes from a production in Vienna in 2006, which was recorded by Austrian Radio. Continue reading...

  • Iglooghost: Lei Line Eon review – enchanting electronic world-building
    by Kitty Empire on 6th April 2021 at 9:35 am

    The young Dorset producer expands on the sonic assault of his debut with beauty, space and actual songsStrange energies run through rural Dorset. Picking up on their irregular frequencies is 24-year-old producer Iglooghost, AKA Seamus Malliagh, a prolific laptop jockey whose latest output sounds a little like Boards of Canada remixed by PC Music. Ancient and hypermodern rub up against each other in his latest work, which also extends to detailed visuals; Iglooghost isn’t so much a musician as an overarching world-creator. His first album, 2017’s Neō Wax Bloom, supplied a sustained digital barrage; its ear-bleeding delights came with extensive lore whose complexity felt akin to that found in anime or gaming.On Lei Line Eon, his second album, those shock-and-awe tendencies give way to more spaciousness and beauty – Big Protector is probably this album’s most eloquent and inviting portal. Elsewhere, keening violins lend a bittersweet timelessness to tracks that also draw heavily on trap and bass music. Iglooghost’s formerly punishing BPMs give way to atmospheres and tracks – such as Light Gutter, featuring a female vocalist called Lola – that might be mistaken for actual songs. This time around, the lore is, if anything, even more developed. There’s an entire website dedicated to the Glyph Institute, which seeks to document and “test-summon” the energy-beings – “hovering, drone-like organisms called Celles” – to which this music is tied. Continue reading...

  • Du Blonde: Homecoming review – DIY at its weird, wilful finest
    by Emily Mackay on 4th April 2021 at 2:00 pm

    (Daemon T.V.)Beth Jeans Houghton channels 90s Boston indie rock to perfection on this one-woman wigout with a few choice guestsIf you want something done right, do it yourself: so Newcastle’s Beth Jeans Houghton resolved for her third record as Du Blonde. Tired of feeling limited by the industry, she wrote, recorded, produced and released Homecoming herself, right down to tie-dying her own merch. Despite this bravura show of self-reliance, she still makes space, in a record bursting and bouncing with fuzzy, pop-grunge hooks, for guests from Garbage’s Shirley Manson (on the heat-hazed, delirious Medicated) to Ezra Furman (the glam-punk scrap of I’m Glad That We Broke Up) and Andy Bell of Ride (the alternately dreamy and hard-rock-anthemic All the Way). Houghton is always centre stage, though, right from opener Pull the Plug, whose sweet, surfy melody and low, scuzzy riffs recall early Frank Black, as does the divinely nonchalant I Can’t Help You There.The whole album conjures the catchiest moments of 90s Boston indie rock – Pixies, Belly, the Breeders. It’s a style appropriated by many, but invoked by a genuine, dedicated kook like Houghton, those dynamics live and breathe. Smoking Me Out, in particular, is a riot – a campy, monstrously distorted vocal on the verse contrasted with a blissfully sweet, sharp powerpop chorus: DIY at its wilful, weird finest. Continue reading...

  • Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg review – a singular debut
    by Phil Mongredien on 4th April 2021 at 12:00 pm

    (4AD)The everyday becomes poetic on this intensely original album of post-punk shape-shifting from the south London foursomeAt a time when such key cultural theorists as the bloke from Maroon 5 are asking whether the very idea of bands has a future, the debut album from south London four-piece Dry Cleaning seems timely.In front of inventive, ever-shifting, never-repeating post-punk shapes – courtesy of Nick Buxton (drums), Lewis Maynard (bass) and Tom Dowse (guitar) – Florence Shaw intones richly detailed lyrical fragments of everyday observations in a voice that’s more sprech than gesang. Taken in isolation, non sequitur lines such as “Someone pissed on my leg in the big Sainsbury’s/ If you’re an Aries/ Then I’m an Aries” might seem rather on the abstract side. But in this context, delivered deadpan against sinuous rhythms, they sound intensely poetic, and imbued with wit and melancholy. Continue reading...

  • Group Sounds Four & Five: Black & White Raga review – the sound of buoyant optimism
    by Dave Gelly on 3rd April 2021 at 3:00 pm

    (Jazz in Britain)Two previously unreleased sessions by Henry Lowther’s mid-60s group represent a missing link in British free-form jazzThere’s nothing like a bit of chaos to get things going, and the creative convulsions that overtook British jazz in the mid-1960s produced some great bands. You may not have heard of Group Sounds Five because they were fairly short-lived and made no records, but they were among the best of them. They were not as revolutionary as the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, but neither did the members merely imitate Coltrane and Miles Davis, much as they admired them.There was a bracing individualism about the band’s whole approach, and a buoyant optimism typical of those years. The band’s leading light was trumpeter Henry Lowther, still one of Britain’s finest. Others whose names may ring bells were bassist Jack Bruce (before Cream) and drummer Jon Hiseman (before Colosseum). No records, but they did make two BBC broadcasts, in 1965 and 1966, and that’s what we have here. Continue reading...

  • Tony Allen: There Is No End review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
    by Ammar Kalia on 2nd April 2021 at 8:00 am

    (Decca France)More cohesive than many a posthumous release, Allen’s legacy is well-served here, especially on the more experimental tracksOne of the defining characteristics of the late Tony Allen’s drumming was his capacity to switch register at a moment’s notice. His is typically a hard-swinging, syncopated groove that can be sharply interrupted by a burst of air through the hi-hats and a rattling fill on the toms, making us aware of his presence not just as a solid sideman but as a spacious soloist, too. Related: Tony Allen: the Afrobeat pioneer's 10 finest recordings Continue reading...

  • Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg review - terrific post-punk poets of the everyday
    by Michael Hann on 2nd April 2021 at 7:30 am

    (4AD)Florence Shaw’s laconic spoken delivery is a highlight in a talented band making the quotidian excitingThe easy thing to do with Dry Cleaning is to concentrate on Florence Shaw and her laconic, subdued, spoken delivery of lyrics that are almost surreal in their quotidian blankness. But that does a disservice to the other three members of the band, because New Long Leg is the work of a terrifically focused group, whose version of post-punk is far more varied than it might at first appear. Tom Dowse has a knack for insinuating guitar lines – the cascading riff of Unsmart Lady; the simple pattern that underpins Strong Feelings – and sometimes the hooks come from the basslines of Lewis Maynard. There’s not a revolution here: the rulebook of the four-piece indie band is not being rewritten, but even with a conventional singer, singing conventional lyrics, Dry Cleaning would be a superior example of the kind. Continue reading...

  • Lise Davidsen: Beethoven, Wagner, Verdi review – exciting opera star burnishes her star quality
    by Erica Jeal on 1st April 2021 at 2:00 pm

    Davidsen/LPO/Elder(Decca)Davidsen’s supple soprano is bright and full, especially in Beethoven’s Leonore, and her attention to detail is thrillingThere’s no hint of difficult second album about Lise Davidsen’s new recording, made with the London Philharmonic and the conductor Mark Elder during last summer’s lull in lockdown. If her Wagner and Strauss disc two years ago confirmed her position as a rising star of extraordinary potential, this consolidates it. Continue reading...

  • Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil ... The Art of Starting Over review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week
    by Alexis Petridis on 1st April 2021 at 11:00 am

    Lovato delivers lacerating lyrics about the trauma she’s faced since childhood, but the music is less startlingDemi Lovato’s Dancing With the Devil … The Art of Starting Over is an album that is hard to view objectively. It arrives in the wake of a documentary series, also called Dancing With the Devil, and a subsequent broadsheet interview, both of which detailed the former Disney star’s descent into drug addiction in agonising detail. If you thought the recent Britney Spears documentary was a damning indictment of the way the music industry and media treats young female stars – and the consequences of doing so – then Lovato’s story significantly ups the ante. Related: 'I have to keep smiling': how the female pop star documentary got real Continue reading...

  • Sarah Moule: Stormy Emotions review – an unerring tribute to Fran Landesman
    by Dave Gelly on 27th March 2021 at 4:00 pm

    (33 Jazz)Moule captures every nuance of the late great lyricist’s words, beautifully set by Simon WallaceThe lyrics here are by Fran Landesman. If you’ve encountered any of hers before, you’ll know that although they’re entirely at home in jazz, and mainly concern love, they can’t be tossed about like any old standard. They’re wary, suspicious, suggesting that the singer has been around the block too many times to fall for the usual line of chat. Occasionally there’s a secretive backward glance to lost innocence, hastily suppressed. That’s a lot of nuance for a composer to take on board and for a singer to convey. Landesman declared that she’d got lucky when she met Simon Wallace, her songwriting partner for 18 years until her death in 2011, and had collected a bonus when he married the singer Sarah Moule.Listening to these 12 tracks, 10 of them previously unrecorded, you can hear what Landesman meant. Moule catches the shifting moods, touchingly in A Magician’s Confession, candidly in Are We Just Having Fun?, and always unerringly. Wallace’s music catches the spirit of each lyric, brilliantly played by his small band. The prize there goes to Mark Lockheart’s soprano saxophone throughout Close to Tears, moving from dialogue with the voice to solo and back again. Continue reading...

  • Ballaké Sissoko: Djourou review – dreamy and adventurous
    by Neil Spencer on 27th March 2021 at 4:00 pm

    (No Format)The Malian kora master finds room for classical, hip-hop and pop on this haunting, hypnotic albumIt says much for Malian music that two of its greatest players, kora masters Toumani Diabaté and Ballaké Sissoko, are among its most determined innovators. Not content with weighty family legacies (the two are cousins), they have won international recognition for their instrument, the 21-string west African harp, in part through cross-culture collaborations. Diabaté’s latest, with the London Symphony Orchestra, is imminent, while here Sissoko has sought out an assortment of guests. Among them is cellist Vincent Ségal, with whom he has already cut two sublime albums, and who joins clarinet player Patrick Messina for a sprightly take on Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.Dreamy, hypnotic moods are default for kora, and Djourou provides several variations. The title track features Gambia’s Sona Jobarteh, who adds haunted vocal wails to their duet, while Parisian popster Camille whispers breathlessly in praise of Sissoko’s instrument on Kora. There’s a nostalgic cast to Kadidja, a slow meditation from Anglo-Italian singer and label mate Piers Faccini (who has a fine album of his own out in April), some grit from rapper Oxmo Puccino on Frotter Les Mains (Rub Hands) and nine meandering minutes with rock band Feu! Chatterton on Un Vêtement Pour La Lune (Moon Wear). Engaging and adventurous. Continue reading...

  • Serpentwithfeet: Deacon review – a swoon in the Californian sun
    by Kitty Empire on 27th March 2021 at 2:00 pm

    This poppy, life-affirming ode to gay domestic bliss is a paean to black people ‘living their damn life anyhow’There can be few albums this year more wholesome, soppy or unabashedly life-affirming than Deacon, the second full-length outing from Serpentwithfeet, a man whose many facial tattoos include a large pentagram in a circle on his forehead and the new album’s title in block capitals across his throat. Across 11 varied tracks, Deacon is a doom-banishing celebration of love and friendship, a record bathed in California sunshine and gratitude. It is not only at stark odds with the maverick songwriter-producer’s forbidding-looking presence – nose ring, hair in horn-like pigtails – but also with his previous body of work.Born in Baltimore, transplanted to Brooklyn, but now happily ensconced in Los Angeles, 32-year-old Josiah Wise grew up singing in church, an experience that has coloured his gospel-infused take on R&B. But he also trained in jazz and the classical tradition. This eclectic corpus of knowledge has given rise to a series of arresting EPs and a previous album, 2018’s Soil, full of heavenly vocal gymnastics as well as arrhythmic, atypical chamber-pop inflections. In 2017, he went on tour with indie band Grizzly Bear and duetted with Björk, a fellow traveller in vocal effusion. Since then, Serpentwithfeet has added rapper Ty Dolla Sign, Ellie Goulding and designer-turned-musician Virgil Abloh to his gamut of collaborators.Deacon presents same-sex black love as healing and transcendental, full of tenderness, humour and glasses of prosecco Continue reading...

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