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Album reviews from The Guardian Music

  • Laura Marling: Song for Our Daughter review – the intimate album we need
    by Alexis Petridis on 9th April 2020 at 3:30 pm

    (Partisan/Chrysalis)Written to an imaginary child about ‘what it is to be a woman in this society’, the singer’s seventh album is alternately intimate, sneering and sad, and lavished with gorgeous melodiesLaura Marling has described her seventh solo album as a kind of conceptual work. Song for Our Daughter, she says, is about “trauma and an enduring quest to understand what it is to be a woman in this society”. The songs are written to an imaginary child, offering her “all the confidences and affirmations I found so difficult to provide myself”. It has also turned up months earlier than expected. Scheduled for release in August – the beginning of the annual three-month season when albums by major artists traditionally appear – it has been brought forward. “In light of the change to all our circumstances,” Marling wrote on Instagram, “ I saw no reason to hold back on something that, at the very least, might entertain, and, at its best, provide some union.” Related: Sign up for the Sleeve Notes email: music news, bold reviews and unexpected extras Continue reading...

  • Wagner: Die Walküre review I Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
    by Andrew Clements on 9th April 2020 at 2:00 pm

    Skelton/Westbroek/Rutherford/Theorin/Bavarian RSO/Rattle(BR Klassik, four CDs)This is Wagner of scattered highlights, but the quality of the Bavarian RSO’s playing distracts from some underwhelming singingOver the last 15 years, Simon Rattle has conducted stagings of Wagner’s Ring several times – in Aix-en-Provence, Salzburg, and Vienna – and though at least one of those cycles has been released on DVD, it’s a series of live performances with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra that forms the basis of his first cycle released as a recording. It began in 2015 with a well-received Rheingold, while this Walküre is based on performances in Munich at the beginning of last year. Continue reading...

  • Ren Harvieu: Revel in the Drama review – a fresh start
    by Tara Joshi on 5th April 2020 at 2:00 pm

    (Bella Union)Ren Harvieu was a buzzed-about BBC Sound nominee in 2012, when she put out a passable debut of orchestral pop, made noteworthy by her smooth voice. It reached the UK top five, but she was dropped by her major label shortly after. Eight years later, the Salford singer-songwriter’s second album reveals her desire for a fresh start.Working with Romeo Stodart of the Magic Numbers, she has created woozy, cinematic songs that are full of yearning and vulnerability – Teenage Mascara possesses a plush wave of harmonies, Yes Please is beguilingly delicate, and the otherwise conventional This Is How You Make Me Feel has a spacy production. Her rich voice remains the star, though, stopping the album from ever sounding twee and schmaltzy. Continue reading...

  • Sinne Eeg and the Danish Radio Big Band: We've Just Begun review – believe the hype
    by Dave Gelly on 4th April 2020 at 3:00 pm

    (Stunt)So many superlatives have been showered upon Danish singer Sinne Eeg that you wonder whether anyone could be that good – or was this yet another case of flawless but cold perfection? Well, this album says she’s certainly that good. Along with all the usual qualifications (time, intonation, phrasing) she has an attractive, flexible voice, sings and writes songs in two languages, and improvises perfect wordless scat. And there’s an easy, unhurried, at-home aura around it all which has nothing to do with technique.The programme is roughly half-and-half originals and standards, and if you didn’t already know, you wouldn’t find it easy to guess which was which. The tunes are proper melodies and the words make sense, the title number being especially good. Of the standards, the lazy-tempo Comes Love is simply gorgeous. Continue reading...

  • Thundercat: It Is What It Is review – love, loss and hyper-speed star jumps
    by Kitty Empire on 4th April 2020 at 1:00 pm

    (Brainfeeder)Mood and mode fluctuate wildly on an album that finds the jazz virtuoso meditating on the death of a close friendFew virtuoso jazz bassists could a spend a decade in a legendary thrash punk band and then swap all the shredding to tour with Snoop Dogg, purveyor of languid west coast hip-hop. It’s a rare musician, too, who can combine writing songs for his cat, Tron, with picking up a Grammy for their sterling work with Kendrick Lamar, the finest rapper of his generation.This is a really narrow field of one, occupied by 35-year-old Los Angelean Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, freak-funk polymath, anime obsessive, heir of sorts to the spacey Afro-futurism of George Clinton, a man who “may be covered in cat hair”, as he sings on Dragonball Durag, one playful single off his fourth album, but “still smells good”. The song’s video sees Haim, R&B singer Kali Uchis and the US comedian Quinta Brunson turning the deluded Bruner down, despite his fetching bandana (the titular “durag”), manga shorts and signature leopard-print ear muffs. Continue reading...

  • Minor Science: Second Language review – expectation-defying beats
    by Tayyab Amin on 3rd April 2020 at 9:30 am

    (Whities)Debut album cleverly morphs and melds its 90s palette without sliding into nostalgia, but there are occasional longueursThe inspiration behind Minor Science’s debut album is one that’s sure to resonate with many of his fellow English-speaking electronic music artists and peers who have relocated to Berlin over the years. Second Language is the result of the producer and DJ’s fascination with language and translation, a byproduct of picking up German (and perhaps his own extensive work with words – many in the scene may first have known Minor Science as dance music journalist Angus Finlayson). He’s been communicating his ideas through sound for some eight years or so, breaking through with off-techno 12-inches for quirky, peripherally club-oriented labels the Trilogy Tapes and Whities. With writing on the backburner and DJing paying the bills, he has one of electronica’s more peculiar and curious albums to show for his transition to the studio. Continue reading...

  • M Ward: Migration Stories review – expanding the borders of Americana
    by Michael Hann on 3rd April 2020 at 9:00 am

    (Anti-)The vocals are perpetually reverbed and the guitars are always twangy, but on his 10th studio album, the singer-songwriter stretches his legs a littleA quarter of a century ago, on the song Windfall, Son Volt conjured a lyric that pretty much captures the modus operandi of M Ward: “Catching an all-night station somewhere in Louisiana / Sounds like 1963, but for now it sounds like heaven.” Over more than 20 years, Ward has developed and refined a style whose roots are planted somewhere between Elvis leaving the army and the Beatles coming to the fore, but whose branches and blooms are very much part of modern Americana. Continue reading...

  • Tops: I Feel Alive review – masters of modern soft rock
    by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 3rd April 2020 at 8:30 am

    (Musique Tops)Sophisticated production, nostalgic synths and gorgeous tunes … the Montreal band’s fourth LP features their strongest songs yetMusic critics will often complain about how someone has got stuck in a rut and failed to progress their sound, but then reserve the right for certain artists to stick to one aesthetic and keep making more or less the same album over and over again. Annoyingly inconsistent, but there you have it. Continue reading...

  • Yaeji: What We Drew 우리가 그려왔던 review – dance music for an existential crisis
    by Aimee Cliff on 3rd April 2020 at 8:00 am

    (XL Recordings)Straddling the blurry line between dream pop and DIY house, the Korean-American’s first full-length effort is a diaristic work of startling emotional clarityKorean-American DJ and producer Yaeji – full name Kathy Yaeji Lee – is the queen of introverted club music. She broke through with her squelchy house track Raingurl in 2017, contrasting a bold bassline with deadpan vocals about her glasses fogging up in the club. On her new mixtape, her first release for XL Recordings, Lee digs even further into her interior landscape, with diaristic, spacious house music on which she sings about subjects like the difficulty of getting out of bed (on the glimmering lead single Waking Up Down). As we enter a nightclub-less era of isolation, she’s timed it eerily well: this is dance music to soundtrack – and soothe – an existential crisis. Continue reading...

  • Stefano Bollani: Vars on Jesus Christ Superstar review I John Fordham's jazz album of the month
    by John Fordham on 3rd April 2020 at 7:30 am

    (Alobar)Bollani treats his youthful obsession – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock musical – with a respect that does not limit his inventivenessStefano Bollani, the technically dazzling and hugely entertaining pianist, composer, broadcaster and writer from Milan, was once a classically trained piano prodigy with an unexpected teenage obsession. When he was 14, Bollani saw the movie of Jesus Christ Superstar, immediately bought the album that had launched the epic rock-opera in 1970, and fell helplessly in love with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s story and its genre-busting, pop/classical score. Three decades later, Bollani - who has partnered stars from Bill Frisell and Chick Corea to Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso, and tends to treat all musical holy writ as ripe for deconstruction - has returned to his youthful muse, not as a cast-of-thousands extravaganza, but as a heartfelt solo piano tribute. Continue reading...

  • Ravel: La Valse; Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition review I Classical album of the week
    by Andrew Clements on 2nd April 2020 at 2:00 pm

    Les Siècles/Roth(Harmonia Mundi)François-Xavier Roth and his period instrument group brilliantly honour the dizzying spirit of Ravel’s La Valse, and the Mussorgsky glows with detailThe third release in François-Xavier Roth’s survey of Ravel’s orchestral music with the period instruments of Les Siècles pairs two works from the years after the first world war. The “choreographic poem” La Valse, first performed in 1920, is often seen as a nightmarish response to the horrors of that war and the annihilation of the Viennese world that was epitomised by the waltz, but Ravel himself rejected such an interpretation, describing it instead as: “the dizziness and voluptuousness of the dance, pushed to its paroxysm.” Roth seems to lean towards the composer’s view; his performance is less nihilistic than some readings, it’s lighter, wonderfully athletic and full of brilliantly lit detail, though still mustering a real punch in the cataclysm of the final pages. Continue reading...

  • Yves Tumor: Heaven to a Tortured Mind review – strong, wrong songs of a rare genius
    by Alexis Petridis on 2nd April 2020 at 11:00 am

    (Warp)Sean Bowie’s creative imagination is extraordinary: experimental, capable of any genre, with an internal logic powering its shifts in moodThe opening track on Sean Bowie’s fourth album under the name Yves Tumor has a bold, swaggering title – Gospel for a New Century – and a sound to match. It struts along on a tight, funky rhythm, punctuated by explosions of dramatic blaxploitation-soundtrack brass swiped from a 1978 pop-funk album by South Korean vocalist Lee Son Ga. There’s a weirdness to the whole enterprise – something chaotic and edgy about the atmosphere, and somewhere in the distance there are faintly disturbing cut-up female vocals – but you don’t notice it unless you concentrate. Certainly you don’t notice it as much as the impassioned vocal, the lyrics about sexual desire and unrequited love, and the killer chorus.It sounds like the track of a leftfield artist marshalling themselves to make something more straightforward and commercial – which fits with the person behind it. The first album by Yves Tumor (who uses they/them pronouns), When Man Fails You, which they self-released in 2015, was way out in the leftfield: a collection of dark ambient instrumentals, bursts of noise and unsettling field recordings. Each of their acclaimed subsequent releases seems to have edged at least a little closer to the mainstream, but never as stridently as this. Continue reading...

  • Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud review – fierce and ambitious but hard to love
    by Jude Rogers on 29th March 2020 at 2:00 pm

    (Merge)Sobriety can smooth any artist’s fuzzy edges. Named after the Alabama creek that runs behind her childhood home, Katie Crutchfield, AKA Waxahatchee, ditched alcohol for good before making her fifth album, Saint Cloud, which sees her sound leap from reverb-laden indie rock to glossy, radio-friendly country. But even though her work has become progressively hi-fi since her scratchy, Cat Power-like 2012 debut American Weekend, there’s a sharpness in these songs that still unsettles.It’s there in Crutchfield’s vocals, louder and fiercer than before, and on songs such as Fire, which is also difficult to love. Her lyrics, tackling subjects including addiction and self-hatred, often feel too verbose, but they become surprising and refreshing on closer listen. Can’t Do Much is an intense, jittery love song with a great opening couplet: “We will coalesce our heaven and hell / My eyes roll around like dice on the felt.” Lilacs despairs of a girl who has harmful inner monologues (“I run it like a silent movie / I run it like a violent song”). Arkadelphia feels like a Bruce Springsteen narrative with its fires restoked for today’s troubled thirtysomethings. This album has a bloodied, ambitious heart on its sleeve. It wants the world to hear it beating. Continue reading...

  • Skepta x Chip x Young Adz: Insomnia review – languid tracks with chest-puffing attitude
    by Damien Morris on 29th March 2020 at 12:00 pm

    (Independent release)This year’s Brit awards may have been criticised for its wobbly commitment to diversity, failing to promote enough female talent. But one nomination was on point when south London newcomers D-Block Europe became the first rap act in over 20 years to be tipped for best British group. Remarkably, the prolific collective released three top 10 album-mixtapes last year and graduated to headlining arenas, yet their star Young Adz has found time to make this surprise posse drop with scene veterans Skepta and Chip.D-Block Europe’s signature “rap wave” sound, basically pornographic lyrics slathered over languid tropical trap, floats nicely alongside Chip’s melodic flow on breezy tracks such as Golden Brown. Skepta brings all his cheeky, chest-puffing energy to every verse to balance Adz’s enervated, adenoidal Auto-Tune croon. The trio’s appetite for drugs, women and money never wavers from first to last track. Yet the more introspective songs, such as the spectral Traumatised and thoughtful High Road, tell powerful stories about their journey to success, and prove that D-Block Europe’s imperial phase is far from its end. Continue reading...

  • Sorry: 925 review – full of disruptive ideas
    by Kitty Empire on 29th March 2020 at 8:00 am

    (Domino)Part of the London scene loosely headquartered at Brixton’s Windmill pub (from Fat White Family to Goat Girl and beyond), Sorry have undergone a radical upgrade in the two years since they started turning heads. Once a scratchy, pointedly blank boy-girl duo, their live band now numbers four and their ambitions stretch beyond indie rock.Near the end of their debut album, a whimsical folk-pop song called Heather imagines a world where Sorry aren’t passive-aggressive misanthropes, but writers of whimsical sync-bait. A reworked oldie, Ode to Boy, is even more promising: a curdled takedown of a love song, its degraded sounds and malfunctioning effects play off against Asha Lorenz’s sarcastic pop vocal. Related: Sorry, the band making ennui sexy Continue reading...

  • Shabaka and the Ancestors: We Are Sent Here By History review – shamanic lyricism
    by Neil Spencer on 28th March 2020 at 12:00 am

    (Impulse)Fronting three different groups may seem like hubris, but the energy and vision of London-based saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings is not easily contained. This second album from his alliance with assorted South African musicians is both calmer and more ominous than his work with the Comet Is Coming and Sons of Kemet. There are no synth squalls and fractured beats – instead, Hutchings’s tenor and clarinet are pitched against an acoustic ensemble driven by double bass and awash with Fender Rhodes piano, an approach that often echoes South Africa’s distinct jazz lineage.The mood is futurist, however. Hutchings is fond of apocalyptic warnings, and the fiery declamations here, co-written with poet Siyabonga Mthembu, are suitably full of dread, beginning with the compulsive 10-minute blast of They Who Must Die. Another strand to Hutchings’s playing is its lyrical, contemplative quality, captured by the churchy Go My Heart, Go to Heaven, the rootsy, determined We Will Work (on Redefining Manhood) and the husky closer Teach Me to Be Vulnerable. Such pieces are a counterpoint to Hutchings’s talk of “what happens when life as we know it can’t continue”. A remarkable, shamanic talent. Continue reading...

  • Skepta, Chip and Young Adz: Insomnia review – dark, funny and perfectly timed
    by Aimee Cliff on 27th March 2020 at 10:30 am

    (SKCM29)Two grime veterans and the drawling D-Block Europe member team up to create a slow-paced record that feels calibrated for the cultural momentThis surprise album from three leading UK MCs is a perfectly timed gift. Mercury prize-winning Skepta, Tottenham MC Chip – both longstanding grime veterans – and Young Adz, from UK trap group D-Block Europe, have presumably been cooking up this collaboration for a while. But everything about it feels calibrated for the current, strange cultural moment: it’s immediately available, rides low at a tempo that’s perfect for listening to while on lockdown in your house or car, and, with the title Insomnia, tackles paranoid themes with the light relief of dark humour. Continue reading...

  • Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud review – the best album of the year so far
    by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 27th March 2020 at 10:00 am

    (Merge Records)With tracks that nestle in heartache and bask in hard-won wisdom, this is an artefact of American song that measures up to Dylan at his peakAccording to the title of her previous album, Alabama songwriter Katie Crutchfield was Out in the Storm, playing breakup songs with a hulking rhythm section. On the follow-up, she sounds like she’s out the other side of it, more or less.With the wind dropped and the air cleared, Crutchfield has turned away from indie-rock entirely to embrace the Americana and country-rock of her native region, and in so doing has made the best album of the year so far. Aided by unfussy, clean but never sterile production by Brad Cook – and perhaps the sobriety she has recently embraced – the haze has lifted and her songwriting can really be seen. Continue reading...

  • The Chats: High Risk Behaviour review – dorkish fun from Aussie pub poets
    by Dave Simpson on 27th March 2020 at 9:30 am

    (Bargain Bin)The Queensland rockers prove that it takes a lot of musical skill to sound so gleefully stupid in this witty debutAfter some colourful YouTube videos that went viral and two acclaimed EPs, Dave Grohl/Iggy Pop-favoured Aussies the Chats’ “shed rock” debut blazes out of Queensland with a similar short, sharp shock to that delivered by punk pioneer predecessors the Saints 44 years ago. Perhaps these complex, bewildering times require another musical clearing of the decks, and singer-bassist Eamon Sandwith, guitarist Josh Price and drummer Matt Boggis certainly deliver that.In the same way NME scribe Paul Morley observed that you could pack an entire Ramones album into the length of a single song by San Francisco drug rockers the Grateful Dead, the Chats are a similar exercise in perfectly honed brevity. None of the 14 songs are more than three minutes long, and several barely clock in at much more than a minute. The brawling attitude and upstart vibe are more than familiar from punk’s first wave. There are fleeting hints of Gang of Four’s choppy funkiness and there’s a certain kindred spirit with Melbourne rabble-rousers Amyl and the Sniffers or Dublin’s Fontaines DC. However, while originality isn’t the Chats’ forte, they have terrific tunes – and lots of them. Continue reading...

  • Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia review – a true pop visionary
    by Laura Snapes on 27th March 2020 at 9:00 am

    (Warner Music)Britain’s biggest female star tightens her grip on the crown with a viscerally brilliant second albumDua Lipa could have taken an easy path to sustaining her status as Britain’s most successful female pop star on album number two. A few Ed Sheeran co-writes, some savvy collaborations, 17 tracks (one for every Spotify genre playlist), a few on-trend lyrics about anxiety and skipping a party: deal sealed. But she’s done the complete opposite. The 11-track Future Nostalgia offers neither features nor filler, and makes a strident case for Lipa as a pop visionary, not a vessel. Continue reading...

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