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Latest Album reviews – May 2020

Latest Album reviews – May 2020
Album reviews

 

Tim Burgess: I Love the New Sky review – unabashedly uplifting

by Emily Mackay on 24th May 2020 at 12:00 pm (Bella Union)The Charlatans frontman comes full circle with effortless assuranceA chameleon of the times, Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess has manoeuvred smooth transitions from baggy psychedelicist to pugnacious belter of Britpop crowd-pleasers to peroxide-pudding-bowled priest of esoteric influences. Which is not to say he’s superficial: his tastes are deep and wide, and both his “virtual coffee shop”, Tim Peaks, and more recent lockdown listening parties on Twitter have brought listeners together with sincere, infectious enthusiasm. Related: My Twitter listening parties are like gigs – but nobody nicks your beer | Tim Burgess Continue reading…

KSI: Dissimulation review – a pugnacious debut

by Kitty Empire on 24th May 2020 at 8:00 am (BMG)The boxing, rapping British YouTube star enters hip-hop’s major leagueDissimulation is the pugnacious solo debut LP of UK rapper KSI. Straight outta Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, Olajide Olatunji first found renown as a YouTuber, leveraging his gaming and comedy videos into 21st-century fame. Best known for defeating YouTuber Logan Paul in a 2019 boxing match, KSI has run a legit musical side-gig since 2015, when he released Lamborghini, a nagging tune aimed squarely at his young male fanbase (21.3 million YouTube subscribers, social media “reach” of 50 million). Related: KSI: ‘Money gravitates towards me’ Continue reading…

Steve Earle and the Dukes: Ghosts of West Virginia review – testimony to a coal-mining tragedy

by Neil Spencer on 23rd May 2020 at 3:00 pm (New West)Earle commemorates a fatal explosion 10 years ago – and reaches out to the blue-collar communities affectedA longstanding supporter of green and leftwing causes, Steve Earle describes his 20th studio album as “a record that speaks to and for people who didn’t vote the way I did”. He means working-class Trump voters, though The Ghosts of West Virginia doesn’t delve far into the psyche of the president’s “base”, being principally a salute to the coal-mining communities of the mountain state, specifically those affected by a 2010 explosion that left 29 miners dead. That event and its aftermath are the subject of a new play, Coal Country, first performed in March, during which Earle delivered onstage commentary as “a Greek chorus with a guitar”.The songs offer a powerful testimony to the tragedy, and are here delivered with Earle’s full band in a deft blend of Appalachian bluegrass and guitar twang on numbers such as Devil Put the Coal in the Ground, fronted by Earle’s gravelly vocals. There are more reflective moments, like Time Is Never on Our Side and If I Could See Your Face Again, where fiddler Eleanor Whitmore sings a widow’s part. Numbers such as Black Lung complete the evocation of thankless blue-collar toil, though Earle has done as much before on 1999’s The Mountain, when no one was voting for Trump. Continue reading…

Cyrillus Kreek: The Suspended Harp of Babel review – music of another place and time

by Fiona Maddocks on 23rd May 2020 at 11:00 am (ECM)Vox Clamantis/TulveThe mysterious psalm settings and hymns of Estonia’s Cyrillus Kreek find full expression in this atmospheric recordingThe 15-strong Estonian choir Vox Clamantis, conspicuously full-toned and subtly expressive, is perhaps best known for singing music by their fellow countryman Arvo Pärt. On their latest album on ECM, directed by Jaan-Eik Tulve, they introduce a composer from the previous generation: Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962). Though largely forgotten by the world beyond, he had a lasting influence on Estonian choral music. He was a pioneering collector of folk songs out in the field, recording thousands of them on a phonograph, many being absorbed into his own compositions.In psalms and hymns, his music is tonal, sensuous yet pure, direct but almost introspective. His setting of Psalm 104, Bless the Lord, my soul, opens with deep basses underpinning all, growing in radiance then retreating into haunting stillness. These lowest of low voices make a resonant appearance, too, in the ethereal Lord, I cry unto Thee (Psalm 141). Marco Ambrosini has written interludes for performance on the kannel, a traditional Estonian zither, and on the delicate nyckelharpa – a bowed instrument with frets and keys and sometimes called a “keyed fiddle”. This mysterious instrumental cocktail of drones and high overtones gives definition to the a cappella choral singing. It’s music of another place and time, beautifully done. Continue reading…

Nídia: Não Fales Nela Que a Mentes review – intimate introspection from Lisbon producer

by Tayyab Amin on 22nd May 2020 at 8:00 am (Príncipe)Nídia shines in her new, more meditative album, showcasing a breadth of dance genres with a keen eye for emotion and turmoil Conceived almost a decade ago, the Príncipe label burst out of Lisbon’s poorer outskirts and onto an international scene enriched by burgeoning global sounds. While the song Danza Kuduro and acts such as Buraka Som Sistema took kuduro to car sound-systems and festival tents worldwide, Príncipe were keen to expand on the genre’s potential and break down racist, sexist and classist barriers holding it back locally. There are hints of house, techno and hip-hop in their music but the African-diaspora sound of Príncipe primarily incorporates Angolan kizomba’s intoxicating rhythms, melodic tarraxinha and the more skeletal, hard-hitting tarraxo. Few on the roster capture the sheer breadth of these styles as well as Lisbon-via-Bordeaux producer Nídia, whose repertoire shines across party-starters and darker tracks. Following a joyous debut EP, her first album for the label landed in 2017, pulling no punches with its heady, high-octane batida. Continue reading…

Jake Blount: Spider Tales review I Jude Rogers’s folk album of the month

by Jude Rogers on 22nd May 2020 at 7:30 am (Free Dirt Records)This debut album by uses limber banjo and fiddle to delve into subversive stories of violence and survival Jake Blount is a brilliant banjoist, fiddle player and singer based in Rhode Island in the US, his fingering thrilling and pacy, his voice charismatic and limber. His debut album arrives with a clear objective running through Blount’s choices of songs: to unknot the gnarly roots of where they come from, and the emotional stories they tell. Continue reading…

Franck: Le Chasseur Maudit; Psyché; Les Éolides review I Andrew Clements’s classical album of the week

by Andrew Clements on 21st May 2020 at 2:00 pm RSC Voices/Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Tingaud(Naxos)Franck has a decent claim to being the most influential French composer of the 19th century – this is a reminder of the clarity of his orchestral visionThough he was born in Belgium, César Franck was based in Paris for almost all of his adult life. His pupils included Duparc, Chausson and d’Indy, while both Debussy and Ravel built on his fusion of the French and Austro-German traditions, and so Franck has a good claim to have been the most influential French composer of the 19th century. Yet these days his reputation rests on a handful of pieces and, outside France at least, only his single symphony is part of the regular orchestral repertoire. Certainly, performances of any of his five symphonic poems are rare, but Jean-Luc Tingaud’s selection of three of them is a reminder of what a vivid and effective orchestral composer Franck could be, even if there are moments in these performances when you sense that a genuinely top-class orchestra might make the music dance and sparkle even more than the RSNO manages to. Continue reading…

The 1975: Notes on a Conditional Form review I Alexis Petridis’s album of the week

by Alexis Petridis on 21st May 2020 at 11:00 am (Dirty Hit/Polydor)Piling on genres and themes, the unwieldy NOACF smartly interprets contemporary chaos yet seriously lacks quality controlNotes on a Conditional Form is an album that seems to have mushroomed out of all proportion. Initially intended as a swiftly-released companion piece to its predecessor, 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, it apparently ended up taking the 1975 19 months in 15 studios in four countries to complete. You can tell as much, just from a cursory spin – if it is possible to give a cursory spin to something that’s 22 tracks long and lasts 80 minutes. Related: Matty Healy: ‘I’m not an avocado – not everyone thinks I’m amazing’ Continue reading…

British Violin Sonatas Vol 3 review – Tasmin Little bows out in style

by Fiona Maddocks on 16th May 2020 at 11:00 am Tasmin Little (violin), Piers Lane (piano)(Chandos)The much-loved violinist ends as she began, putting less familiar repertoire centre stageAfter a career of three decades, the star violinist Tasmin Little may have had her farewell concert season thwarted – at least for now. Yet this final volume of British violin sonatas, with the pianist Piers Lane, offers abundant compensation. Little’s repertoire has always been extensive and inquisitive, her dedication to less familiar British repertoire a cornerstone of her career. Having featured works by Britten, Walton and Vaughan Williams, among others, on Volumes 1 and 2, she and Lane now include the world premiere recording of The Hart’s Grace by James Francis Brown (b1969), a work of dreamy intensity written for, and first performed by Little, in 2016.William Alwyn’s early Sonatina (1933), disowned by the composer but luckily not destroyed, and Eric Coates’s delicious miniature, First Meeting, offer airy contrast to two weighty compositions: John Ireland’s stormy, impetuous Sonata No 2 with its poetic slow movement, premiered during the first world war; and York Bowen’s Sonata, Op 112, soaring and febrile, dating from the end of the second world war. Both suit Little’s openly expressive, romantic sound and fluid virtuosity: a generous player, she’s sure to find fresh outlets for her musical insights away from the concert platform. Let’s be glad she’s put this repertoire firmly back on the map. Continue reading…

Moby: All Visible Objects review – misjudged and out of touch

by Rachel Aroesti on 15th May 2020 at 8:00 am (Mute Records/Little Idiot)Seeming to prefer penning candid memoirs to exploring new musical material, Moby’s 17th album has vitality but no noveltyMoby’s heydays bookended the 1990s. In 1991, the New York native smooshed together post-punk, 80s disco and the Twin Peaks score into Go, a quintessential rave track that reached No 10 in the UK charts, something he celebrated with spasmodic dancing on Top of the Pops. In 1999, his album Play, which combined American roots and club beats into the kind of dinner party-friendly dance music middle England could really get behind, went six times platinum in the UK. Capturing the zeitgeist at both ends of a decade is no mean feat, and at 54, Moby seems more intent on reflecting on his success than repeating it – nowadays he makes headlines for cringeworthily candid memoirs about his unlikely superstardom rather than any new material. Continue reading…

Witch ‘n’ Monk: Witch ‘n’ Monk review | John Lewis’s contemporary album of the month

by John Lewis on 15th May 2020 at 7:30 am (Tzadik Records)Heidi Heidelberg and Mauricio Velasierra’s genre-blitzing mashups pull in everything from opera to postpunk Witch ‘n’ Monk are a theatrical Anglo-Colombian duet featuring two very different musicians. Mauricio Velasierra plays a variety of flutes, while Heidi Heidelberg is a classically trained soprano singer who plays spiky prog-punk riffs on guitar while using looper pedals. They’ve released two mini-albums as Bitch ‘n’ Monk, but their new moniker rather suits the slightly shamanic, unearthly quality of their music. Continue reading…

Nicola Benedetti: Elgar Violin Concerto review I Erica Jeal’s classical album of the week

by Erica Jeal on 14th May 2020 at 2:00 pm Benedetti/London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Jurowski/Limonov(Decca)Benedetti’s tone and decisiveness is made for this work, and she brings an understated edge to the added miniatures, too The violin was Edward Elgar’s instrument, and when he was composing he thought as a string player: you can hear the idiomatic shaping of lines, the relishing of sonorities, in everything he wrote. Nicola Benedetti’s new recording – out today as a download, with the CD release planned for July – brings together his huge, sumptuous 1910 Violin Concerto with three miniatures for violin and piano that nevertheless say a lot in a few minutes. Continue reading…

Perfume Genius: Set My Heart on Fire Immediately review I Alexis Petridis’s album of the week

by Alexis Petridis on 14th May 2020 at 11:00 am (Matador)Backed by starry session musicians, Mike Hadreas makes wild but confident leaps between styles on this rich, fascinating LPIgnoring for a moment the well-established dangers of judging a book by its cover, it feels like you can divine a lot from the sleeve of Perfume Genius’s fifth album. It looks not unlike something Athena might have sold posters of in the mid-80s, destined for teenage bedroom walls: a moody black and white shot of a man in jeans, stripped to the waist, the better to show off his ripped physique, his body smeared with what looks like engine oil. It’s almost unrecognisable as the Mike Hadreas whose press shots once tended to feature him, skinny and sullen, staring out the camera, sporting hopefully fake bruises on his arms and a black eye. Related: Perfume Genius: ‘I’m constantly demanding a big feeling’ Continue reading…

Kehlani: It Was Good Until It Wasn’t review – intimate second album

by Tara Joshi on 10th May 2020 at 2:00 pm (Atlantic)Across her solo releases, Oakland, California artist Kehlani has channelled a nostalgic kind of poppy R&B. That the former America’s Got Talent star’s debut album was called SweetSexySavage in a nod to TLC’s CrazySexyCool is telling of the kind of slinky, exuberant sounds she’s best known for putting out. This second album is more pared down and feels more of its time, as much indebted to SZA as it is SWV. Some of the lyricism is a little clumsy (“We fuck and make-up like it’s Maybelline”), and the Megan Thee Stallion feature is an all-too-brief skit, but overall Kehlani sounds assured and impressive here, offering sensuality and intimacy in her candour.Beyond the sultry, raw afterglow of balmy tracks about sex and love, she interrogates her life as entertainment news on Everybody Business (“So if you hear that rah-rah-rah about me […] I beg you don’t listen, I beg you believe me”), while on Grieving, a duet with James Blake, she ruminates on the end of a relationship over silken beats. Sonically, it can blend a little into one, but the closing feature from the late rapper Lexii, a friend and collaborator of Kehlani’s, is a rousing, poignant end to a largely accomplished set. Continue reading…

I Break Horses: Warnings review – more woozy synthscapes

by Phil Mongredien on 10th May 2020 at 12:00 pm (Bella Union)Having started out as a My Bloody Valentine-indebted shoegaze duo, I Break Horses had become a solo vehicle for Swedish singer-songwriter Maria Lindén by the time of 2014’s rather more electronica-influenced second album, Chiaroscuro. The six years since have been notable chiefly for a series of false starts: collaborations that didn’t come off, two years’ work lost on a crashed hard drive. But despite a new creative foil in producer Chris Coady (Beach House, TV on the Radio), the long gestation period of this third album hasn’t brought about any quantum leaps in style: Warnings majors in the sort of gently woozy homemade synthscapes that defined its predecessor.The record is most effective when Lindén sounds more animated, as on I’ll Be the Death of You and the nimble, propulsive, Kraftwerk-influenced Neon Lights. Unfortunately these moments are overshadowed by lengthier excursions that give longueurs a bad name. The opener, Turn, details the aftermath of a relationship gone sour, but the cloyingly tinkling synths and funereal pace make its nine ponderous minutes feel like an endurance test. Lead single Death Engine is similarly overegged, and the three instrumental interstices anaesthetise the palate rather than cleanse it. There’s the kernel of a good album here – but it’s no more than that. Continue reading…

Moses Sumney: Græ Part Two review – introspective magic

by Kitty Empire on 10th May 2020 at 8:00 am (Jagjaguwar)Sumney’s “art rock and black classical” double album concludes with quieter highsThis second suite of songs completes Moses Sumney’s 20-track double album Græ, a tour de force about “the duelling forces” in oneself that places the Ghanaian-American’s vast emotional range and unfurling musicality front and centre. If Part One (released in February) came out bold, with explorations of virility and vulnerability, soaring orchestral arrangements, trombones and songs asking “am I just your Friday dick?”, Part Two slackens only slightly. The emphasis switches to the quieter, gauzier end of Sumney’s output; the pronoun “me” recurs several times.Sumney’s impact is undimmed, however, as Two Dogs examines mortality and the beatless reverie of Bystanders wonders exactly “whose morality is grey”, picking up the album’s theme of half-states again. Multitracked backing vocals gust around Sumney’s own versatile voice here, giving form to the “visitations from spiritual realms” that (he sings) used to come to him as a boy. The sucker punch on Græ Part Two is Me in 20 Years, where Sumney fast-forwards, wondering whether he will be alone. His magnificent falsetto hits multiple crescendos alongside a repurposed trap beat and shimmering, elegiac electronics. Continue reading…

Watkins Family Hour: Brother Sister review – a model of sibling harmony

by Neil Spencer on 9th May 2020 at 3:00 pm (Family Hour/Thirty Tigers)Sean and Sara Watkins are back and in reflective moodCalifornia’s Sean and Sara Watkins are akin to royalty in American folk circles, firstly as founding members of the hugely successful Nickel Creek, and secondly as hosts of an 18-year residency at LA’s Largo club, where they perform alongside invited guests. Brother Sister draws on both strands of their history. Like its self-titled 2015 predecessor, the album sets aside the pizzazz of Nickel Creek for a down-home approach, but instead of boisterous, star-studded cover versions come five original songs and a minimal musical palette.Alternating on lead, the pair’s vocals remain a model of sibling harmony, while the interplay between Sean’s intricate guitar picking and Sara’s elegant fiddle is similarly impressive – the breakneck bluegrass instrumental Bella and Ivan is a case in point. Mostly, however, the mood is reflective. Lafayette and Miles of Desert Sand chronicle the search for a better life, and Fake Badge, Real Gun is an artful snipe at Trump – “Throw your tantrums but the truth will be waiting”. Warren Zevon’s forlorn Accidentally Like a Martyr fits in neatly, while Charley Jordan’s ribald Keep It Clean is a gleeful example of a Largo session. Continue reading…

Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul review – rich lyricism from Natalya Romaniw

by Fiona Maddocks on 9th May 2020 at 11:00 am (Orchid Classics) Natalya Romaniw (soprano), Lada Valešová (piano)The on-the-rise soprano excels in this deeply personal Russian-Czech recitalBorn in Swansea of Ukrainian descent, the outstanding young soprano Natalya Romaniw was singing – stunningly – the title role of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly at English National Opera when Covid-19 restrictions forced the abrupt termination of the run. She should also have performed the title role of Dvořák’s water nymph, Rusalka, at Garsington Opera this summer, where she made an impact in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in 2016 and Smetana’s The Bartered Bride last summer. Disappointing for her at this turning point of her career, and for her growing number of fans.Romaniw’s new album, Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul – dedicated to the memory of her Ukrainian grandfather, “my great musical inspiration”, explores repertoire by the Russians Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninov, and the Czechs Dvořák, Janáček and Novák. The pianist Lada Valešová captures the varied colours of the piano writing expertly, an equal and supportive partner. These 28 songs, especially the folk-rich examples by Janáček and Novák, suit Romaniw’s generous, big-toned voice, its timbre flecked and speckled with character and emotion. The eight songs by Dvořák grouped as Love Songs, Op 83, melancholy and lyrical, make us even more impatient to hear her Rusalka when the time comes. Continue reading…

Place: Ecuador review – a wild night in Quito

by Ammar Kalia on 8th May 2020 at 9:00 am (Air Texture)Shuffling Mestizo melodies meet eerie techno in this stellar compilation taken from Ecuador’s pulsating club sceneWhile most would name Colombia as the home of South America’s forward-thinking club scene, neighbouring Ecuador has quietly been carving out its own dancefloor identity in recent years. The country has produced breakout talents such as DJ Nicola Cruz and home-grown labels like ZZK and Wonderwheel Recordings, operating under the social restrictions of a largely Catholic state and in the midst of devastating austerity measures. Most of its key players reside in Quito, and bring together a community at the capital’s inclusive nights, including Cruz’s La Sagraria.Often marked by downtempo, undulating house rhythms and samples of Andean pan flutes and instruments such as the lute-like charango, their output is organic-sounding. Yet Place: Ecuador, a new charity compilation, showcases a grittier and more kinetic side to the scene. It’s the fourth release in New York label Air Texture’s location-specific charity series (previous editions have covered Georgia, Colombia and the Netherlands), benefiting the indigenous Waorani people’s legal battles against the Ecuadorian government’s sale of their land for mineral rights. Continue reading…

Blake Mills: Mutable Set review – an ethereal journey into pop’s avant garde

by Dave Simpson on 8th May 2020 at 8:00 am (New Deal)With his fourth solo album the acclaimed producer faces down the confusion of modern life with intoxicating calmBlake Mills has picked up Grammy nominations for his production work on Laura Marling’s Semper Femina, John Legend’s Darkness and Light and Perfume Genius’s No Shape. However, the fourth solo album by the 33-year old Californian former touring guitarist should turn the spotlight towards his own work. Mutable Set is intended as a “soundtrack to the emotional dissonance of modern life”. Themes range from precious people and experiences to disappointment and isolation, though this isn’t conventional singer-songwriter fare. Continue reading…

 

 

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