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Album reviews from The Guardian Music

  • Girlhood: Girlhood review – breezy, 90s-tinged electropop
    by Tara Joshi on 25th October 2020 at 3:00 pm

    (Team Talk)The shape-shifting duo, who met on a boat, channel Moby and the Avalanches on their solid debut Singer-songwriter Tessa Cavanna and producer Christian Pinchbeck first crossed paths in 2017. He heard her singing, so the story goes, when she walked past his narrowboat in east London and was so impressed he invited her to hop on board and record in his studio. The resulting project, Girlhood, marry sweet, soaring vocals with iPad instrumentals, channelling the expansive spirit of the Avalanches and the gospel-tinged beats of Moby. In other words, at times they can sound anachronistic.It’s the older tracks, such as Bad Decisions and Milk & Honey, that really shine on their self-titled debut – the former with its taut percussion and uplifting vocals; the latter all spiralling melodies and trip-hoppy scratches. Queendom, meanwhile, is smooth and soft, while Fever Sweat recalls the atmospheric warmth of producer Flume, and Keep On and The Love I Need possess a housey euphoria. So, while there’s nothing especially fresh-sounding here, Girlhood is a solid set of breezy electropop with a hint of future possibilities. Continue reading...

  • Futura Utopia: 12 Questions review – joyously unpredictable
    by Damien Morris on 25th October 2020 at 1:00 pm

    (70Hz/Platoon)Actors, poets and musicians tackle various posers on super-producer Fraser T Smith’s inventive debutThis is the first artist project from super-producer Fraser T Smith, architect of Stormzy and Dave’s debuts alongside Kano’s pivotal Made in the Manor. Smith’s debut wrestles with 12 oversized questions, answered by actors, poets, musicians and other artists with spoken word, poetry and some joyously unpredictable music.Some of these queries are too gnomic or exhausted to be worth repeating. What Is Love? has been asked since the dawn of language, or at least since Haddaway in 1994. How Much Is Enough? will not be solved by either Kojey Radical’s 41-second musings nor by the luscious pop rap Million$Bill that follows. Interludes such as Es Devlin’s engaging aperçus during Why Are We So Divided When We’re So Connected? are too brief to be meaningful, yet not so long as to disrupt the album’s flow. Continue reading...

  • Gorillaz: Song Machine Season One: Strange Timez review – playful and potent collaboration
    by Kitty Empire on 25th October 2020 at 9:00 am

    (Parlophone)Damon Albarn is the melodic anchor to this pioneering album that balances concept with funThe Now Now (2018) was one of those Gorillaz albums that dispensed with the hip hop-led collaborations that have often defined this band of ink and flesh. Guests are in full effect, though, on its follow-up: what’s billed as Season One of the band’s Song Machine concept, compiling the tracks Gorillaz have released monthly via their YouTube channel since January, plus extra helpings.Everything that has ever been engaging about Gorillaz is present in spades here. Playfulness and conceptual ambition are all anchored by Damon Albarn’s melodic melancholy and his side-eye at the suboptimal state of things. His Bowie fixation waxes hard on unreleased tracks – such as The Lost Chord – as well those already in the public domain (Aries). Continue reading...

  • Sun Ra Arkestra: Swirling review – out of this world
    by Neil Spencer on 24th October 2020 at 3:00 pm

    (Strut)The Arkestra’s first album in 20 years is an intoxicating, cosmic tribute to Sun RaFor much of his long, prolific career, the late Sun Ra (born plain Herman Blount) found his music marginalised. Though rooted in jazz tradition, its atonal tunings and proto-electronica, along with its space-age themes and gaudy costumes, were too way out for an era of studied, mohair-suited cool. Since his death in 1993, however, Ra has become hailed as a pioneer of Afrofuturism, whose influence runs from Funkadelic to Black Panther. Meanwhile Ra’s band, the Arkestra, have toured tirelessly, presided over by alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, now 96.This first album in 20 years proves an inspired tribute to the master, revisiting celebrated pieces like Satellites Are Spinning, with its promise “A better day is breaking/ The planet Earth’s awakening”, beautifully sung by violinist Tara Middleton. The vocalised, upbeat mood (Ra was essentially utopian) maintains through the bebop riff of Rocket Number Nine, and Allen’s title track, whose finger-snapping big band arrangement evokes a nightclub on Mars, while the swaying Egyptian melody of Angels and Demons at Play and the foreboding Sea of Darkness come from deeper space. It’s a heady brew, challenging but intoxicating. Ra always said his music was from the future… and now it has arrived. Continue reading...

  • Bruce Springsteen: Letter to You review – a sledgehammer of succour
    by Kitty Empire on 24th October 2020 at 1:00 pm

    (Columbia)An album about fallen comrades sees the E Street Band deliver the distilled elixir of their best stadium-filling formWhile Bruce Springsteen was performing Springsteen on Broadway, the stage iteration of his 2016 memoir, his former teenage bandmate, George Theiss, was dying of cancer. Well before the E Street Band, there were the Castiles, an incubator where Springsteen first played guitar, then sang, from 1965 to 1968.As the end neared, Springsteen held a vigil at the North Carolina bedside of his former musical sparring partner. When Theiss died, Springsteen became the only surviving Castile, a realisation that spawned a new song, The Last Man Standing.It's cheesier than a Monterey Jack… but exactly the album some people could use right now Continue reading...

  • Classical home listening: Ralph Vaughan Williams and a Rossini feast
    by Fiona Maddocks on 24th October 2020 at 11:00 am

    The BBC Symphony Orchestra is on eloquent form, while two great tenors treat us to virtuoso arias and duets • When one composer, in this case Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), dedicates a major work to another, our curiosity is piqued: is the gesture one of homage or perhaps pride that the giver at last feels they’ve made something worthy of the recipient? The inscription at the head of Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No 5 in D major (1943), the latest in the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s excellent RVW cycle, conductor Martyn Brabbins (Hyperion), reads: “Dedicated without permission to Jean Sibelius” – the reason never fully explained though theories abound. If you need a reason to opt for this eloquent recording, with so many fine versions around, it’s this: the incidental music for Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is performed in its original 1906 guise. With contributions from folk voice Emily Portman, mezzo soprano Kitty Whately, baritone Marcus Farnsworth, the BBC Symphony Chorus and a quartet from the BBC Singers, it’s a rewarding novelty and part of the continuing exploration of a composer whose reputation seems unstoppable.• Two of the world’s starriest Rossini tenors – a limited breed, excelling in high trills and dazzling vocal acrobatics – have joined forces to celebrate the maniacal challenges the Italian opera composer throws singers at every turn. Think Djokovic and Nadal on a top day. Amici e Rivali (Erato) – Friends and Rivals – features Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres, with I Virtuosi Italiani, conductor Corrado Rovaris and guest appearances from Tara Erraught and Xabier Anduaga. Arias, duets and trios from seven operas, including Il barbiere di Siviglia, Otello, La donna del lago and others less well known, give a chance for the bright, light-voiced Brownlee and the lower, riper sounding Spyres (he started out as a baritone) to spar and unite: bel canto at its finest, the fruits of formidable virtuosity, musical high risk and lasting friendship. Continue reading...

  • Ela Minus: Acts of Rebellion review – techno-pop for dancing, thinking and resisting
    by Aimee Cliff on 23rd October 2020 at 8:00 am

    (Domino)Making her debut album alone on analogue machines, Minus has come up with an inspiring manifesto for 2020 As acts of rebellion go, Ela Minus’s is an intimate yet powerful one. On her debut album, the Colombia-born, Brooklyn-based artist makes personal-is-political statements amid alternately soothing and rousing electronic soundscapes, all of which she crafted alone in her apartment using analogue equipment. Continue reading...

  • Tenderlonious/Jaubi: Ragas from Lahore review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
    by Ammar Kalia on 23rd October 2020 at 7:30 am

    (22a Records)Ed Cawthorne and the Jaubi quartet blend improv with Indian classical music on this free-flowing collaborationEver since the likes of John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef and Don Cherry came upon the tantric mantras of India and the harmonic and rhythmic forms of Indian classical music, the field of improvisatory music that became known as spiritual jazz has sought to merge a particularly African American expression with an ancient lineage to create its own musical philosophy – one resolutely apart from the white, Eurocentric tradition. Continue reading...

  • Bruckner: Symphonies Nos 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9 review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
    by Andrew Clements on 22nd October 2020 at 2:00 pm

    Bavarian Radio Orchestra/Mariss Jansons(BR Klassik, 6 CDs)The late conductor excelled in late Romantic repertoire, and these live recording of Bruckner symphonies see him at his bestMariss Jansons died last November. During the final 15 years of his life he was the chief conductor of two of the world’s greatest orchestras, the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony, based in Munich. In Britain at least we seem to hear him more regularly with the Dutch musicians than with his German band, but there was little to choose between the two in terms of quality and refinement; Jansons seemed to have the rare ability to bring out the very best from any orchestra he conducted. Continue reading...

  • Bruce Springsteen: Letter to You review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week
    by Alexis Petridis on 22nd October 2020 at 11:00 am

    (Columbia Records)Reunited with the E Street Band, songs about downbound trains and glory days show a scaled-down ambition – but are they also political, emotional and sometimes hugely enjoyableBruce Springsteen’s 20th studio album reconvenes his most celebrated backing musicians, the E Street Band: ignoring 2014’s stopgap collection of covers, outtakes and reworked old material High Hopes, it’s their first album proper since 2012’s Wrecking Ball. It’s been trailed for some time, not least during the promotional campaign for Springsteen’s last album, Western Stars: presumably talk of its forthcoming appearance was to mollify Boss fans who thought Western Stars’ easy-listening country was insufficiently Springsteen-esque. Related: Bruce Springsteen: where to start in his back catalogue Continue reading...

  • Dorian Electra: My Agenda review – frenetic, pummelling protest-pop
    by Michael Cragg on 18th October 2020 at 2:00 pm

    (Self-released)The gender-fluid experimentalist crams in styles and guests on this thought-provoking second albumOver the last few years pop songs have shortened, curtailed by the whims of streaming services and algorithms. It’s a trend that gender-fluid alt-pop experimentalist Dorian Electra clearly revels in, with most of the songs on My Agenda – the frenetic follow-up to last year’s decadent, gloriously OTT debut, Flamboyant – clocking in around the two-minute mark. As on their debut, however, Electra uses the time wisely, cramming myriad guests (the Horrors’ Faris Badwan, Friday hitmaker Rebecca Black, the Village People, plus many many others) into songs that veer between punk, hardcore and pummelling electro-pop.As with Flamboyant, Electra digs into notions of masculinity and queerness, but this time they uncover murkier territory. Aggressive opener F the World skews the loneliness of “incels”, while Ram It Down fuses lyrics about latent homophobia with twisted, steroid-injected happy hardcore. Even the pure pop high of the PC Music-esque Barbie Boy is rooted in ideas around physical perfection. Continue reading...

  • Beabadoobee: Fake It Flowers review – shiny, vulnerable retro pop
    by Kitty Empire on 18th October 2020 at 8:00 am

    (Dirty Hit)The London singer’s debut album, rooted in 90s indie, could do with less polish and more gritLondon bedroom pop sensation Bea Kristi – aka Beabadoobee – takes her cues from the off-kilter indie guitars of a quarter-century ago, in much the same way as like-minded Americans Phoebe Bridgers or Soccer Mommy. An old song called I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus found her “crying to Pavement”, venting about change and dyeing her hair blue.Fake It Flowers, Beabadoobee’s debut album proper, polishes the sound of her spindlier EPs, homogenising away some of their gawk and crunch. Her singing voice isn’t particularly 90s, but a winsome coo you could see nailing one of those treacly TV advert cover versions. Continue reading...

  • Autechre: Sign review
    by Tayyab Amin on 16th October 2020 at 8:00 am

    (Warp)A surprisingly melodic proper album is welcome from the electronic pioneers, but its dystopian soundworld is now in a crowded market As the devastating and the downright uncanny both become normalised, few things still have the power to surprise in 2020. That said, few would have expected Autechre to conjure up an album-length album, actually conceptualised and sequenced true to the format. The Rochdale-originated duo’s recent output consists of weighty folder dumps, marathon radio residencies and other swathes of experimental electronics, club deviations and wee-hours abstractions. These exciting, befuddling drops are often left raw and unsorted for fans to construct their own canons from the pair’s extensive discography. Now relocated and working remotely from one another long before lockdown, Autechre have been mining away at a sound influenced more temporally than geographically: electro, bleep techno, funk and old-school hip-hop styles of the 80s and 90s continue to shape the direction of the Warp Records mainstays. Continue reading...

  • Django Bates/Norrbotten Big Band: Tenacity review | John Fordham's jazz album of the month
    by John Fordham on 16th October 2020 at 7:30 am

    (Lost Marble)A celebration of Charlie Parker and Bates’s own 60th year prompts radical but heartfelt readings of music by bothThe centenary year of the birth of Charlie “Bird” Parker is a reminder that the saxophone genius not only accelerated bebop’s transformation of jazz in the 1940s, but galvanised the imaginations of music-makers everywhere. This month also sees the 60th birthday of British composer and improviser Django Bates – like Bird, a wilful subverter of habits in anything from big-band jazz to the expected trajectory of almost any tune. Bates celebrates both occasions on Tenacity, with Sweden’s Norrbotten Big Band – kindred free spirits often reminiscent of the great Loose Tubes orchestra Bates and others created in the 80s. Continue reading...

  • Clara Iannotta: Earthing review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
    by Andrew Clements on 15th October 2020 at 2:00 pm

    Jack Quartet(Wergo)The Italian composer asks a lot of her musicians, with conventional playing augmented by electronics and found objects, but it never sounds contrived ‘String quartet” seems a rather reductive way of describing any of the four utterly compelling works by Clara Iannotta that the Jack Quartet play here. For as well as demanding that the string players employ every conventional technique, the Italian composer extends their sound world farther, both with electronics and with “found objects” applied to the strings and bodies of the instruments. Continue reading...

  • Gorillaz: Song Machine Season One: Strange Timez review – the poignant sound of social distancing
    by Alexis Petridis on 15th October 2020 at 11:00 am

    (Parlophone)Damon Albarn’s cartoon band mark their 20th anniversary with a record whose star guests – Elton John, Robert Smith and St Vincent among them – are folded into a fluent, brilliant wholeDamon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s Gorillaz project has sold tens of millions of albums, spawned No 1 singles, broken America in a way no Britpop band (including Blur) ever managed, won awards, headlined festivals, spawned its own festival – Demon Dayz – and staged vast transcontinental arena tours. All this without it ever becoming clear what Gorillaz is supposed to be. An alt-rock star’s extended sneery joke at the expense of manufactured pop? A catch-all repository for a musical polymath’s teeming multiplicity of ideas? An act of self-indulgence, or a brave, boundary-pushing experiment that sometimes works to startling effect and sometimes very publicly fails?At various points since their 2000 debut, Gorillaz have encompassed all of those things: they have lurched from feeling like a stoned folly to a brilliantly inventive reimagining of what a pop band can be; from a postmodern gag to the source of evidently heartfelt concept albums about environmentalism and the apocalyptic tone of life in the 21st century; from being the object of Noel Gallagher’s derision to featuring Noel Gallagher as a special guest. Continue reading...

  • Future Islands: As Long As You Are review – intensely moving
    by Phil Mongredien on 11th October 2020 at 2:00 pm

    (4AD)A sixth album from the Baltimore synth-pop band finds their music as urgent and impassioned as everIf there’s one moment that Baltimore synth-poppers Future Islands are likely to be remembered for, it’s frontman Samuel T Herring’s brilliantly impassioned rendition of Seasons (Waiting on You) on David Letterman’s TV show in 2014, which rightly became a viral sensation online. On the one hand, as career-defining performances go, it’s infinitely preferable to the Stone Roses at Reading 96, say. But on the other, it’s going to cast a long shadow over everything else they do. Their 2017 album, The Far Field, for example, certainly had its moments – just nothing that cut through in the same way as Seasons.Their sixth album finds them treading familiar ground, Herring’s mannered vocals ensuring that For Sure comes across like a less emotionally detached Power, Corruption & Lies-era New Order, a comparison that’s cemented by William Cashion’s hooky – and Hooky – basslines. Indeed, this influence is a vein that runs through many of As Long As You Are’s best songs, most notably the intensely moving Plastic Beach, which addresses how love can help to overcome body dysmorphia (“Spent a lifetime in the mirror/Picking apart what I couldn’t change”). Even when the tempo – and urgency – of these songs occasionally drops, they are rescued from mediocrity by Herring’s affecting lyrics: several songs contemplate the wreckages of toxic relationships with unflinching honesty. But there’s redemption here, too. Hit the Coast finds him putting the bad times behind him, and heading for a brighter future, “flying and free”. Continue reading...

  • Emmy the Great: April / 月音 review – a quest for belonging
    by Emily Mackay on 11th October 2020 at 12:00 pm

    (Bella Union)The artist’s lush fourth album, written between New York and Hong Kong, is a stirring exploration of different homesThere’s both pathos and power in not quite belonging to any one place: born and raised in Hong Kong, Emma-Lee Moss found fame in London before moving to the US in 2014. After Trump’s election, her roots called, and her fourth album was written between New York and Hong Kong, two worlds undergoing great change. “Are you looking for straight lines, in these liminal days?” asks the jaunty, bubblegum-poppy Dandelions/Liminal, American protest seen through the lens of Chinese Buddhism. On Chang-E, a cosmic rush of Asian-influenced strings and silvery seas of percussion, Moss explores Chinese-American connections through the myth of the beautiful queen who stole the elixir of youth and fled to the moon with a white rabbit (in 1969, Buzz Aldrin promised to “keep a close eye out for the bunny girl”).Lush and exploratory, April / 月音 swirls Cantonese vocals, singing bowls, and samples of Hong Kong traffic lights into Moss’s folk-pop, and is all the more stirring for never really finding a safe resting place. In 2019, as Hong Kong erupted against China’s imposition of new security laws, Moss left with her baby daughter, whose voice bubbles up on the light, bright Heart Sutra – belonging finally found in forward motion: “I’m going to walk out of here/All open and clear.” Continue reading...

  • Black Thought: Streams of Thought Vol 3: Cane & Able review – masterful rhyme
    by Kitty Empire on 11th October 2020 at 8:00 am

    (Republic)The veteran US rapper is on fire, with invective that meets the present momentIllustrious Philadelphia rapper Black Thought combines a career with the Grammy-winning, Late Show-soundtracking hip-hop band the Roots with film and TV roles; he’s also involved with a forthcoming stage musical. Rumours surrounding solo work started 20 years ago, but Tariq Trotter finally released some in 2018. Cane & Able follows two shorter EPs; the able “Cane” here is producer Sean C, who lends Trotter a more mainstream-attuned set of beats than Salaam Remi (Vol 2) or 9th Wonder (Vol 1).That’s not always a good thing. On the weird muzak that is Nature of the Beast, passé outfit Portugal. The Man and rapper the Last Artful, Dodgr guest. The best that can be said is that Trotter’s singing is warm and assured. Continue reading...

  • Long Time Passing: Kronos Quartet and Friends Celebrate Pete Seeger review – a timely tribute
    by Neil Spencer on 10th October 2020 at 3:00 pm

    (Folkways)Aided by well-chosen singers, the string quartet has created a fearless tribute to the godfather of folk protest It’s clearly no accident that the San Francisco string quartet are paying tribute to the late civil rights activist Pete Seeger on the eve of a presidential election. There were few more resilient opponents of Trumpian values than Seeger, who weathered FBI investigation, blacklisting and a jail sentence on his way to becoming the godfather of folk protest. In 2011, at age 92, he was still to be found marching on Wall Street. Continue reading...

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