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Album reviews from The Guardian Music

  • The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show review – old-fashioned festive schmaltz
    by Dean Van Nguyen on 2nd December 2019 at 12:11 pm

    Apart from a blockbuster duet with Lana Del Rey, there are no new musical ideas on this twangy Amazon Prime Video special and soundtrackKacey Musgraves entered the festive music market three years ago with the release of A Very Kacey Christmas. Now, she’s back to carve out more of the holiday pie with an Amazon Prime Video special and an accompanying soundtrack that makes Mariah Carey’s Merriest Christmas on Netflix seem edgy by comparison. The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show revels in old-fashioned seasonal kitsch as familiar as the old woolly jumper that comes out of your wardrobe every December. (Savvy viewers will also question whether the doll’s house-style setting was inspired by Taylor Swift’s video for Lover.) The schmalz is very much intentional and the special zips along thanks to its tight running time – just under 45 minutes – and sardonic narration by Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy. Related: Sign up for the Sleeve Notes email: music news, bold reviews and unexpected extras Continue reading...

  • Hannah Diamond: Reflections review – gloriously overwrought
    by Michael Cragg on 1st December 2019 at 3:00 pm

    (PC Music)The press release for Hannah Diamond’s debut album hammers home the fact that the 28-year-old from Norwich is a real person. As the early figurehead for gonzo collective PC Music’s synthetic, hyper-real take on pop music, Diamond was caught in a wider conversation surrounding notions of authenticity, with her early singles dismissed as two-dimensional or, worse, the work of male geniuses using her as an avatar. Reflections, a gloriously overwrought breakup album, proves there’s a beating heart beneath Diamond’s self-aware, Photoshopped exterior.Over 10 off-kilter songs, Diamond, whose deadpan, heavily tweaked vocals lend every word a sort of icy detachment, details the stages of a relationship ending, from catching a new flirtation on OTT hyper-ballad Invisible (“do you wish I wasn’t even there sometimes?”), to unpicking the moment of full implosion on the tactile Never Again. Continue reading...

  • Jack Peñate: After You review – expansive third album
    by Tara Joshi on 1st December 2019 at 1:00 pm

    (XL)Jack Peñate’s 2007 debut, Matinée, with its scrappy, jangly indie guitar pop, was a product of its time. Its follow-up, 2009’s Everything Is New, recalibrated the Londoner’s profile to that of a more serious, refined dance-pop artist. Following that record’s acclaim, Peñate took a step back from the limelight, and has spent the past decade learning how to produce music himself.Indeed, his return on After You showcases Peñate’s own high-end production values (with some help from Paul Epworth, Inflo and Alex Epton). This isn’t a release that bows to zeitgeisty sounds, but instead aims, in somewhat hit-and miss-fashion, at timeless songwriting. The sprawling cosmic delicacy of Loaded Gun feels reminiscent of Bowie; the Beatles are referenced at their most spiritual via slightly eye-roll-inducing sitar on the otherwise sweet Cipralex. Continue reading...

  • Stick in the Wheel: Against the Loathsome Beyond review – maximum innovation
    by Kitty Empire on 1st December 2019 at 9:00 am

    (From Here)The modern mixtape emerged as a hip-hop expediency to avoid sample clearance. Stick in the Wheel – former ravers turned innovative folk artists – have cheerily embraced the almost-album form, putting out the collaborative This and the Memory of This mixtape in 2018 soon after the much-lauded Follow Them True (2018), their last full band outing. This year, core Stick duo Nicola Kearey and Ian Carter offered up yet another collected compilation, the many-limbed English Folk Field Recordings Vol 2.This latest series of “explorations” with medieval roots, Against the Loathsome Beyond, maxes out their innovative impulse. Here, then, are more chilly ancient tunes, re-imagined as drone-rock (Down In Yon Forest) or baroque early synth pastorales (Drive the Cold Winter Away), or as electronic sound art (a remix of Cambridge avant-guitarist C Joynes’s Sang Kancil). Most fist-pumping of all is the instrumental centrepiece Moskeener (British Yiddish for pawnbroker, apparently), a raga that could have gone on far longer. Kearey speaks two tracks, given extra witchy poke by more resonant thrumming. Given that no single version is ever definitive in folk, “anything goes” remains a valid modus operandi. Continue reading...

  • Home listening: a Bach odyssey ends as non-stop Beethoven begins
    by Stephen Pritchard on 1st December 2019 at 5:30 am

    Angela Hewitt revisits Bach’s Six Partitas in glorious style, while Beethoven 250 gets off to a flying early start• The pianist Angela Hewitt is nearing the end of her four-year Bach Odyssey, touring his major keyboard works right around the world. (She once told a taxi driver in Atlanta, Georgia, what she did for a living. “That sounds relaxin’,” came the reply.) But even Hewitt’s daunting concert series is eclipsed by her 25-year association with Hyperion, recording all those works, and sometimes revisiting them. So it is that The Six Partitas (Hyperion, 2 CDs) are getting a second look, more than 20 years after Hewitt first recorded them to great acclaim in 1997.Don’t expect any major departures. As she says in the liner notes, an allemande is still an allemande; a French courante should still not be rushed; a gigue must remain danceable. The warm praise that greeted that first release could equally attach to this exquisite new set. Hewitt’s playing is characteristically limpid, technically faultless, deeply intelligent and infectiously joyous. Her decades of experience playing this repertoire gives it a special patina; it glows like old gold. Give yourself an early Christmas present; you’ll want to play this again and again. Continue reading...

  • Alison Rayner Quintet: Short Stories review – memories brought to life
    by Dave Gelly on 30th November 2019 at 4:00 pm

    (Blow the Fuse)I think I could spot a piece by Alison Rayner among a mixed bag of contemporary British jazz composer, not by any mannerisms of style, but because her whole approach is so brisk and clear. This is certainly true of the music played by her quintet. The band have been together for about five years now, a long time for the hectic London scene, and have developed their own recognisable personality. This is their third, and aptly titled, album.The eight musical short stories – five by Rayner and one each by saxophonist Diane McLoughlin, guitarist Deirdre Cartwright and pianist Steve Lodder – all concern memories of people or places. A few brief lines in the album notes set the scene, and each sound-picture is brought deftly to life. Two I particularly admired were A Braw Boy, suggesting the open sea and big skies, featuring piano and soprano saxophone, and Croajingolong Bushwalk, with some neat percussion from Buster Birch. Alison Rayner is the band’s bassist, and for some reason bass-playing jazz composers (Charles Mingus and Charlie Haden, for instance) seem particularly good at conjuring scenes and atmospheres. Continue reading...

  • Ms Banks: The Coldest Winter Ever Pt 2 review – rising rapper has summery bounce
    by Aimee Cliff on 29th November 2019 at 10:30 am

    (Ms Banks)The south-east Londoner’s second album shifts from downbeat trap to euphoric afropop rhythms and steely playfulness The Coldest Winter Ever Pt 2 – the follow-up to an ice-cold self-released project from 2018 – was set to be released in May this year, which might explain why it sounds so counterintuitively summery. But Ms Banks has, understandably, been busy. The south-east London rapper kicked off the year by appearing on stage with Little Mix at the Brits, before providing guest vocals on R&B singer Tinashe’s new album, and just this week, on a remix of Jorja Smith’s latest single, Be Honest. Still unsigned, Banks is following a well-trodden path for UK rap stars in 2019 by eschewing major labels to build her own artistic and brand connections. Her support slots for Cardi B and an as-yet-unreleased collaboration with Nicki Minaj suggest the plan is working. Continue reading...

  • Doon Kanda: Labyrinth review – welcome to the haunted fun fair
    by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 29th November 2019 at 10:00 am

    (Hyperdub)The designer and musician makes his mark using synthetic-sounding instruments to produce his spooky electronicsJesse Kanda has made a considerable mark on culture with his graphic design – his mythic, bulbous, gender-indeterminate beings are the perfect foil for Arca’s music, and he has made beautiful, influential collaborations with FKA twigs and Björk. He then moved into music, as Doon Kanda, with two EPs leading up to this debut album, featuring another melancholy demigod on the cover. Continue reading...

  • Jack Peñate: After You review – getting tastefully high
    by Michael Hann on 29th November 2019 at 9:00 am

    (XL Recordings)Back after 10 years, Peñate’s tuneful new songs are a literate, spiritual exploration of the soul, but it’s undoubtedly a bit beigeJack Peñate’s back, and this time it’s spiritual. Part of his decade away from music was spent – consults notes – indulging in mind-expanding ritual, looking to mysticism and mythology for answers, and reading Hesse, Rilke and Huxley. The suspicion that he’s gone full ayahuasca holiday is further heightened by the news that the album’s closer, Swept to the Sky, was written “because there was a sound that reminded me of a feeling I had being in the jungle while in Peru”. Shall we consult the lyrics to see what feeling that might have been? “Then a mist from the lovers of sin / Slowly crept to my skull through my skin / And my body was carried up high / And I felt myself swept to the sky.” No more questions, your honour. Continue reading...

  • Omar Souleyman: Shlon review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
    by Ammar Kalia on 29th November 2019 at 8:30 am

    (Mad Decent) The Syrian musician has released 500 records and now lives in exile in Turkey, but this short, sharp record shows an undimmed spirit There was a glorious moment during Syrian singer Omar Souleyman’s 2011 Glastonbury set. Having just opened to a crowd of sedate, sun-baked West Holts revellers with the trilling saz lines of ballad Saba, he gives one waft of his hand and commands the entire crowd into a dabke-fuelled frenzy.His keyboard player starts hammering out electronic drums on the keys, while Souleyman wails deep-throated entreaties to his audience; it is a joyous encapsulation of his music and appeal. Continue reading...

  • Beethoven: Leonore review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the month
    by Andrew Clements on 28th November 2019 at 3:00 pm

    Petersen/Schmitt/Ivashchenko/Johannsen/Freiburg Baroque O/Jacobs (Harmonia Mundi, two CDs)Leonore was Beethoven’s first version of Fidelio and René Jacobs eloquently champions the earlier score in this lithe live recording As we know it today, Fidelio, Beethoven’s only opera, was first performed in 1814. But it had begun life in 1805 as Leonore, when its premiere in Vienna, to an audience largely made up of French officers from Napoleon’s occupying army who could not understand any of the German text, had been a disaster. Beethoven revised the score immediately, cutting swathes and recasting the original three acts into two, but he was still unhappy with the result, which was withdrawn after two performances the following year. When it emerged again, eight years later, both the music and the words had been even more substantially altered, and this time the premiere was a huge success.Jacobs' tempi are generally on the fast side, though the superb, crisp playing of the period-instrument Freiburg Baroque Orchestra ensures they never seem too hectic Continue reading...

  • The Who: Who review – back and still causing a big sensation
    by Alexis Petridis on 28th November 2019 at 12:00 pm

    (Polydor)Despite their precarious relationship, Daltrey and Townshend return for their first album in 13 years, snarling at the Grenfell disaster and hoping for world peaceThe first words you hear on the Who’s 12th studio album are Roger Daltrey, telling the band’s audience to get stuffed. “I don’t care,” the band’s 75-year-old frontman sings, “I know you’re going to hate this song.” There follows four and half minutes of agonising over whether there’s any point in making a new Who album at all – “this sound that we share has already been played” – before songwriter Townshend signs off on All This Music Must Fade with a muttered “who gives a fuck?” Related: Sign up for the Sleeve Notes email: music news, bold reviews and unexpected extras Continue reading...

  • Coldplay: Everyday Life review – uneasy listening
    by Phil Mongredien on 24th November 2019 at 3:00 pm

    Chris Martin’s stadium-fillers return, with lyrics that could set the liberal cause back decadesIn the four years since the release of Coldplay’s last album, the relentlessly upbeat A Head Full of Dreams, the world has become a more divided place. That sense of unease permeates the band’s eighth set – Trouble in Town pontificating on racial politics in the US, even if the chilling sample of police harassment that anchors the powerful second half of the song actually dates from 2013. The excruciating Guns is rather less sure-footed, as Chris Martin – never Bob Dylan when it’s come to writing lyrics, in fact barely Noel Gallagher – makes a clumsy pass at satire (“Who needs education, or a thousand splendid suns/ Poor is good for business, cut the forests, they’re so dumb”), swears gratuitously and probably sets the liberal cause back decades.It’s not all geopolitical angst: recent single Arabesque is as good as anything they’ve done in the last 10 years, with French lyrics and echoes of the intensity of Primal Scream’s If They Move Kill ’Em refracted through a skronking jazz filter. But they’re rather less engaging when they hit the stadium preset buttons, whether it’s appropriating gospel sounds in the style of late-80s U2 (BrokEn), churning out mawkish balladry (Daddy) or mistaking empty bombast for euphoria (Champion of the World). Continue reading...

  • Davido: A Good Time review – Afrobeats-infused celebration
    by Tara Joshi on 24th November 2019 at 1:00 pm

    (RCA)Singer-songwriter and producer Davido has said that A Good Time was so called partly in acknowledgement of the current global appreciation for Nigerian pop music. The sound of Afrobeats is joyously ubiquitous, and Davido, who grew up between Nigeria and the US, is one of its key players. This is a celebration, then: the release also follows the birth of his son, and the cover art features Davido, his father and a sculpture of his late mother.His 2012 debut was criticised for a lack of variety, but here he pushes past that complaint with a broader array of sonic palettes beneath his gliding vocals. He enlists international features from the likes of current R&B favourite Summer Walker, who adds her caramel vocals to the lithe D&G, and trap star Gunna offering choppy, melodic bars on the intense energy of Big Picture, alongside some standout moments from his Nigerian cohort including WurlD, Zlatan and Naira Marley. Continue reading...

  • Beck: Hyperspace review – dewy, plush and on-trend
    by Kitty Empire on 24th November 2019 at 9:00 am

    (EMI)Colors, Beck’s last album, won two Grammies. Its sequel finds Beck retaining the marketplace nous of producer Greg Kurstin on one track and adding that of Pharrell Williams, purveyor of cheek-popping flair on more than half the album. Beck’s records can often veer away from the sound of their predecessors, but Hyperspace is no minimal DIY folk jam: it’s dewy, plush and on-trend.Beck’s eclecticism arguably paved the way for the bonfire of the genres in the present decade – even phenomena such as Old Town Road. Here, Saw Lightning is a genre-torching bop that harks all the way back to Beck’s Loser days, but it’s a red herring. Lit by the glow of vintage video games and a kind of hazy west coast liminality, Hyperspace sounds mushily contemporary, at least at first. It glides along on lasers, coasts on thermals – until suddenly it doesn’t. Deep turmoil festers at the centre of these superficially dazed confections, featuring Auto-Tune, multi-tracking, bleached funk, raps and woah-woah-woahs. The gestation of the album coincided with the breakdown of Beck’s marriage of 15 years. Once the lyrical sorrow and apocalyptic visions hit home, Hyperspace is revealed as a bleak, spacey R&B tour de force. Continue reading...

  • Home listening: Bach, Beethoven and two great violinists
    by Fiona Maddocks on 24th November 2019 at 5:29 am

    Tremendous new releases from Kati Debretzeni and Leonidas Kavakos, plus 50 years of the Met on BBC Four• Violinists who specialise in baroque music don’t tend to get the same limelight as those playing big romantic concertos, but their virtuosity deserves equal recognition. Kati Debretzeni, born in Transylvania, based in London, has led the English Baroque Soloists since 2000. She is also a leader of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and has directed numerous ensembles around the world. Debretzeni is soloist, scholar and inspiration in Bach Violin Concertos (SDG), with the English Baroque Soloists conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. In addition to the well-known concertos in A minor, BMV 1041, and E major, BWV 1042, she has explored two others, the disputed D minor, BMV 1052 and, in her own arrangement, the D major concerto, after BMV 1053 (a reworking of the second harpsichord concerto). Debretzeni’s joyful, spirited playing, precise but free, gives endless pleasure. Related: Los Angeles Philharmonic/ Dudamel; Orphée review – glitz meets gravitas Continue reading...

  • Allison Moorer: Blood review – an aching, moving testimony
    by Neil Spencer on 23rd November 2019 at 4:00 pm

    (Autotelic/Thirty Tigers)One summer night in 1986, teenage sisters Shelby and Allison Moorer were woken in their Alabama home by gunshots. It was the sound of their father shooting their mother dead before turning the gun on himself. The horror and trauma of the event has haunted the sisters’ songs intermittently during their respective successful careers (Shelby Lynne, the elder, using her middle name as surname), but Blood, Allison Moorer’s ninth solo album, is the first to address the tragedy and its fallout in detail, a companion piece to her newly published memoir of the same title.Its 10 songs are stark but powerful, their anguish and insight given a deft, minimalist treatment by producer Kenny Greenberg. Opener Bad Weather evokes a brooding, southern gothic atmosphere; Cold Cold Earth, sung raw and solo, describes her parents’ last hours; and Nightflight tenderly describes the bond between the sisters, left cowering that night. The lyrics to I’m the One to Blame came from their father, an embittered songwriter, while their beloved mother is given voice in The Rock and the Hill. From tragedy, Moorer somehow finds compassion and resolution amid the inescapable bonds of a shared bloodline. An aching, moving testimony, beautifully realised. Continue reading...

  • Hannah Diamond: Reflections review – trance-pop rescued from good taste
    by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 22nd November 2019 at 10:30 am

    (PC Music)On these melancholy bangers, the PC Music singer uses nursery rhyme-like melodies and a girlish sing-song delivery to essay the pain of being lovelorn and vulnerableHere’s an affecting companion piece to Caroline Polachek’s recently acclaimed Pang: another breakup album with production handled by one of the PC Music collective, who rescue trance-pop sonics from the tyranny of good taste. Polachek’s record featured work by Danny L Harle, while Diamond’s is produced by AG Cook. Where Polachek is erudite and poetic, Diamond is prosaic; where Polachek’s vocals are astonishingly skilful, swooping into high registers, Diamond’s are unremarkably ordinary. Continue reading...

  • Robbie Williams: The Christmas Present review – perfect for regifting
    by Rachel Aroesti on 22nd November 2019 at 10:00 am

    (Columbia)Robbie does his full Rat Pack tribute act on a bunch of seasonal standards, and throws in some bonkers Christmas bonus songs of his ownLike your extended family after one too many mince pies, the Christmas album market is bloated and inert. Last year, everyone from Jessie J to William Shatner proffered their takes on the same old seasonal standards. Yet there are few musicians better suited to this cosily camp form than Robbie Williams: the 45-year-old’s career has been almost entirely fuelled by the kind of arch schmaltz that is the genre’s lifeblood. Continue reading...

  • Leonard Cohen: Thanks for the Dance review – a sublime final statement
    by Dave Simpson on 22nd November 2019 at 9:30 am

    (Columbia) This posthumous album finds the poet and singer on reflective, insightful, deadpan form, ‘settling accounts of the soul’After finishing You Want It Darker, which was released just 19 days before his death in 2016, aged 82, Leonard Cohen still wanted to add to his tower of song. Thus, he kept on writing and recording as life ebbed away, and the result is this beautiful posthumous collection. His songwriter son Adam has assembled a stellar cast of musicians, such as Daniel Lanois, Jennifer Warnes and Spanish guitarist Javier Mas, to do justice to the unfinished home recordings. However, the sparse, sublime instrumentation never takes the focus away from Cohen’s inimitable voice, which is lush, deadpan, warm and poetic, with a hint of frailty adding to the sense of a final statement. Continue reading...

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