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Latest album reviews: November 2020

Latest album reviews: November 2020
Album reviews

Flohio: No Panic No Pain – a seething statement of intent

by Kate Hutchinson on 29th November 2020 at 3:00 pm The south London rapper takes centre stage on her full-throttle debut mixtape(Alphatone)Since she first pricked up ears with her impish flow and shadowy beats four years ago, 28-year-old south Londoner Flohio has always given the impression of being an outsider in the UK’s rap movement. Her route to fame has, rather unusually, been through left-field electronica. She appears to address this on her new mixtape (which is essentially a debut album) with Roundtown, on which she sings: “I’ve been around town/ For a second, going ham now/ See me rollin’, tryna get my balance right.”No Panic No Pain certainly suggests she’s found her lane: it’s a seething statement of intent, with her jugular-chopping, sometimes sullen delivery set to sinister, cavernous instrumentals and the familiar eerie synths of 70s horror films. Tracks such as Boobytraps, With Ease and the Cadenza-produced Sweet Flaws barely let up. The result risks being oppressive, Flohio’s staccato flow smacking like heavy rain, but there are less antsy moments too, as on Flash, where she boasts of being reckless against a stunning fluoro backdrop that rushes like a video game.


Smashing Pumpkins: Cyr review – infinite flatness

by Phil Mongredien on 29th November 2020 at 1:00 pm (Sumerian)Three of the band’s original members drift back to the 80s with a synth-fuelled endurance test of an albumAlthough Smashing Pumpkins are no strangers to synths, they have always remained a guitar band at heart. And yet Cyr, the second album since three-quarters of their “classic” lineup reconvened in 2018 (original bassist D’arcy Wretzky is still absent, although thankfully no longer in prison for horse-related offences), finds Billy Corgan setting the controls for the heart of 1982 with a full-blown synth-pop set.Normally, such willingness to transcend genre boundaries would be commendable, but Cyr falls flat on so many levels. Lush textures abound, but there’s barely a memorable tune present, which makes the decision to release it as a 72-minute double album hubristic in the extreme.


Miley Cyrus: Plastic Hearts review – mock rock

by Kitty Empire on 29th November 2020 at 9:00 am (RCA)Cyrus might know her way around a Joan Jett cover, but the punky sneer of this post-divorce album feels like an actThroughout a decade careening gleefully from pop to R&B to country, Miley Cyrus has needed no urging to drop a rock cover. Her unforced simpatico for guitars, and that gravelly bawl, have enabled reputable live takes on Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog (Glastonbury 2019) and Joan Jett’s I Love Rock’n’Roll (her 2011 tour).Plastic Hearts is the album of that predilection: a set of post-divorce songs that throw up devil’s horns while putting on a punky sneer. Half the time, Cyrus is touting some ersatz idea of “rawk” proselytised by MTV circa 1984. No actual outlaw would turn to Billy Idol for guidance, but here he is on the truly dire Night Crawling, trying not to sing White Wedding.


Gabriel Latchin Trio: I’ll Be Home for Christmas review – the gift that keeps on giving

by Dave Gelly on 28th November 2020 at 4:00 pm (Alys Jazz)The pianist’s American songbook-inspired album is an all-year-round keeperFor my money, London-born Gabriel Latchin is the best straight-ahead jazz pianist to appear in the past few years. Polished technique we now take as normal, but there’s a particular crispness in his playing and a lucidity that grips the attention. I was a bit taken aback to learn that Latchin was about to release a Christmas album, but this is no festive quickie. As he points out in the CD notes, the best Christmas songs were mostly the work of American songwriters of the 1930s and 40s, who also produced many of the tunes which are now jazz standards. Perhaps, he thought, it was time to give them the jazz treatment too. And while he was about it, why not give each a flavour of one of his own favourite pianists? So we have the title number with a touch of Bill Evans, and others giving a nod to Ahmad Jamal, Barry Harris etc. Latchin leaves us to guess most of them. Thelonious Monk is easy, and Herbie Hancock; after that I’m not so sure. But all 11 tracks are a delight to listen to anyway, and not just at Christmas.


Classical home listening: Schumann and Schubert string quartets and more

by Fiona Maddocks on 28th November 2020 at 12:00 pm New releases from the Emersons, the Arod Quartet and Quartetto di Cremona; and at home with Spitalfields Music • Robert Schumann, who suffered mood swings and periods of severe mental instability, wrote his three string quartets in the “miracle” year of 1842. These Opus 41 works, completed within a few weeks, remain relatively unfamiliar. In their original lineup, and on Deutsche Grammophon, the Emerson String Quartet only recorded one. Now, in a debut recording on the Pentatone label, the Emerson Quartet’s Schumann: String Quartets shows these works in all their variety, intensity and, so often, mystery.The Quartetto di Cremona’s Italian Postcards includes music by Borenstein not Bernstein, as originally stated. This has now been corrected

Brandee Younger and Dezron Douglas: Force Majeure review | John Lewis’s contemporary album of the month

by John Lewis on 27th November 2020 at 8:30 am (International Anthem)The couple combine forces on a jazzy chamber album full of harmonic intelligence and symbiosisBrandee Younger is a classically trained harp player who you may have heard guesting with the likes of Lauryn Hill, Common, Drake and the Roots. Under her own auspices, she has been developing a jazz vocabulary for the harp, building on the achievements of Adele Girard, Dorothy Ashby, Alice Coltrane and Zeena Parkins. As well as being an instrument dominated by women (Younger’s latterday peers include Laura Perrudin, Alina Bzhezhinska, Destiny Muhammad, Rachael Gladwin and Carol Robbins) the harp is notoriously difficult for non-harpists to write for, and its music has developed largely through the experimentation of its practitioners, who are able to exploit its unique melodic characteristics and variable decay times.Force Majeure is released on 4 December on International Anthem records.


Flohio: No Panic No Pain review – rapper leaves no mould unbroken

by Kemi Alemoru on 27th November 2020 at 8:00 am (AlphaTone)The south Londoner broadens and deepens her emotional range, while continuing to select unexpected production partnersFlohio escapes labels. In fact, she actively contests them, asserting she’s not a grime artist as so many observers assume London rappers are. Since 2016 the Bermondsey rapper, who goes by a portmanteau of her real name Funmi Ohiosumah, has become known for unabashed stage presence and rapid-fire flows, spitting over the beats of electronic artists such as God Colony and Modeselektor rather than only rap producers. These daring, genre-resistant tracks earned her a place in the BBC’s Sound of 2019 poll.

Miley Cyrus: Plastic Hearts review

by Alexis Petridis on 27th November 2020 at 7:01 am (RCA)From floaty synth ballads to punky 80s pop, this album’s middling material doesn’t adequately serve this unusual starSix years ago, Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz tour arrived in London. It was as ludicrous and ludicrously entertaining a stadium pop show as anyone is ever likely to stage, featuring Cyrus dancing on stage with a pantomime horse, singing a ballad while being chased by a giant fluorescent orange puppet bird and appearing alongside a 30ft statue of her recently-deceased dog Floyd, which shot lasers out of its eyes. Just when you were wondering what she could possibly do next, she asked the audience if they liked Bob Dylan. The ensuing tumbleweed silence suggested they didn’t, but she sang You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go anyway. On other occasions, she favoured the crowd with the Smiths’ There Is a Light That Never Goes Out, Irma Thomas’s 1963 New Orleans soul classic Ruler of My Heart and Led Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You. Related: Sign up for the Sleeve Notes email: music news, bold reviews and unexpected extras

Regards sur l’Infini review | Erica Jeal’s classical album of the week

by Erica Jeal on 26th November 2020 at 3:00 pm Dain/Armstrong(7 Mountain Records)Katharine Dain and Sam Armstrong have used lockdown to produce a memorable, effortlessly polished albumFor most chamber music partners, 2020 has been a year of jarring discontinuity, but for a few – those with a spare room, no family commitments and the ability to tolerate the incorrect loading of the dishwasher – there have been silver linings. In Rotterdam in March the pianist Sam Armstrong moved in with his soprano recital partner Katharine Dain for what they thought would be a few weeks of quarantine and rehearsal. Those weeks turned into months, in which they worked daily on a selection of French-language songs written in life-changing times. The result, recorded in August, is an extraordinarily polished and thought-through disc.

Kali Uchis: Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) ∞ review – her best is yet to come

by Kate Hutchinson on 22nd November 2020 at 3:00 pm (Interscope/Virgin EMI)In her first fully Spanish release, the LA-based artist offers a suck-it-and-see set with glimmers of promise If Ariana Grande is pop’s Barbarella, then Kali Uchis is surely its Pussy Galore. The Los Angeles-based 26-year-old specialises in slow-jam hybrids of shimmering soul, lipgloss-sticky funk, sugary R&B and syrupy trap-pop with (you get the consistency) a Y2K hyperreal sheen. Her EP from April this year didn’t sound that far off Grande’s Positions. Embracing her Colombian heritage with her first fully Spanish release – her name translates as Without Fear (of Love and Other Demons), plus, for the hell of of it, an infinity symbol – Uchis’s follow-up to her acclaimed 2018 breakthrough Isolation makes a superb bid for the Bond soundtrack with her belting cover of Cuban singer La Lupe’s Qué Te Pedí. Equally cinematic is the trip-hop of Vaya Con Dios, in which she sings seductively over what sounds like Portishead’s Sour Times.It’s a shame that these bursts are few and far between: for the most part, this album deals in a sort of muffled, dreamy malaise (floaty reggaeton, noncommittal bangers), nods to Spain’s Bad Gyal and ticks off 2020 pop’s now customary list of girl-on-girl tonguing (in the video for single La Luz), lowercase tracklisting and a Rico Nasty guest feature. This album doesn’t feel much like Uchis’s artistic step-up, her Norman Fucking Rockwell or El Mal Querer, but more like a suck-it-and-see step on – a hastily released album that suggests her best is yet to come.

Tayla Parx: Coping Mechanisms review – a treat of a breakup album

by Tara Joshi on 22nd November 2020 at 1:00 pm (Tayla Made/Atlantic)The songwriter steps out of Ariana Grande’s studio and into her own for this impressive, genre-crossing second solo albumGrammy-nominated for her work with Ariana Grande, Texan Tayla Parx is best known for her songwriting for other people. Increasingly, though, she looks poised to ascend as a solo artist in her own right. Coping Mechanisms follows suit sonically from her plush, bright 2019 debut, We Need to Talk, albeit a little more jaded tonally. Through pop, indie, R&B, dance and hip-hop it explores the aftermath of a bitter breakup (“I know I shouldn’t say this, but I hope you’re so fucking sad,” Parx sweetly intones on opener Sad). Her voice bounces fluidly between formidable anthemic singing and choppy bars (closing track Y Know is a slick showcase of both).Other standouts include the luxe bassline of Dance Alone, the dynamic rhythms of Bricks, and rippling banger System, which finds her partying through the pain. Justified is a striking power ballad, contemplating whether she really wants the relationship to end; Parx’s silky vocal is beautiful as she admits that, with enough attention, her partner could cut their fork in the road with a knife. All polished production, deft instrumentation and resonant lyrics, it’s an impressive, fun addition to the breakup album canon.

Luke Abbott: Translate review – lush and cavernous

by Kitty Empire on 22nd November 2020 at 9:00 am (Border Community)Creepy film music meets bucolic dance on the Norfolk producer’s cosmic third albumSinister and grandiose, hectic and bucolic, Norfolk producer Luke Abbott’s third album accretes big sense impressions from some wildly disparate sources. Somehow in Translate, his first solo artist album in six years and third overall, you find echoes of Boards of Canada and Dario Argento horror film soundtracks, of the beatific glide of Kraftwerk and the cold beauty of systems music: all this and sylph-like tunes too. Abbott has a jazz sideline – Szun Waves – and composes film music; here, you can hear the latter but not the former.Having built a “speaker-henge” in order to achieve the cosmic wraparound sound he was after in the studio, Abbott says he hopes to be able to tour this lush, cavernous record in full quadrophonic effect after the pandemic. Fingers crossed he will, because tracks such as Earthship pair three-dimensional modular synth progressions with creepy found sounds, while others, like Living Dust, muster skitters and wub-wub to generative and strangely meditative ends. River Flow, meanwhile, conveys the ache of classical strings, and Feed Me Shapes ships in actual guitars for a finishing Velvet Underground touch. Bravo.

Katy Carr: Providence review – Anglo-Polish ballads of freedom

by Neil Spencer on 21st November 2020 at 4:00 pm (Deluce)The Nottingham-born singer returns to her roots in a lockdown album with a sharper, more personal edgeNottingham-born singer Katy Carr has followed a singular grail over recent years, exploring her Polish heritage on 2012’s Paszport and 2015’s Polonia, each celebrating events and heroes of Anglo-Polish history. Providence completes the trilogy, while shifting its focus from the second world war to a wider canvas that includes tributes to Oscar Wilde and Boudicca.Made during lockdown, it’s a minimalist affair mostly brewed up between Carr’s electric piano and Rupert Gillett’s cello and synths, with few of the musical excursions that studded its predecessors. The pair hit a compulsive groove on Hero to Zero, a dystopian salute to Orwell’s 1984, and Miracle on the Vistula, recalling a victory in the 1919 Polish-Soviet war. The same conflict delivers Hej Sokoly, a folk song popular among Polish troops, while The Virgin Queene toasts Elizabeth I with a two-step that belongs more to Polish plains than the Spanish Armada.

Neil Young: Archives Vol II: 1972-1976 review – guitar duels, live jams and onstage banter

by Kitty Empire on 21st November 2020 at 2:00 pm (Reprise)Featuring countless 70s outtakes over 10 CDs, this long-awaited box set captures the Canadian grappling with fame while boldly pursuing unfamiliar sounds and moods If you’re fresh to the news that the second instalment in Neil Young’s epochal archive striptease is finally upon us, it’s already too late. The 3,000 copies of this £210 box set – 10 CDs, some not-even-bootlegged rarities, all originally slated for reveal in 2014 – have already found homes in homes other than yours.Young has said another run will follow, due to ship in March. But like its predecessor, Archives Vol I: 1963-1972, released 11 long years ago, Archives Vol II: 1972-1976 will be available to stream on this maverick artist’s own subscription channel, Neil Young Archives.Hawaiian Sunrise’s balmy hotel bar vibe almost disguises Young’s inner tussle: between his love and his art

Megan Thee Stallion: Good News review – galloping into greatness

by Alexis Petridis on 20th November 2020 at 5:25 pm With easy flow, hard barbs and a magnetic persona, the rapper casts herself as the successor to hip-hop’s old-school heroesOn YouTube, you can still see one of Megan Thee Stallion’s early appearances at a 2016 rap cypher in Houston. It’s a very telling performance. Twenty-one years old and still an unknown student (“Support the artists,” pleads the accompanying text, “this is only the beginning of their journey”) she’s vastly outnumbered by male counterparts who don’t seem to be taking her terribly seriously. It could be that they’re laughing and high-fiving while she performs because they’re incredulous at her skills, but it doesn’t really look that way. Yet she seems impossibly confident and self-possessed, ending her performance with the salacious, tongue-out taunt of “ahhh” that has since become her trademark. It isn’t just the benefit of hindsight that makes her seem the artist most likely to. Related: ‘We do what we want, for ourselves’: why it’s a golden age for women in rap Related: ‘When a woman raps, she spitting!’ Megan Thee Stallion, the hot girl taking over hip-hop

Raye: Euphoric Sad Songs review

by Rachel Aroesti on 20th November 2020 at 9:00 am (Polydor)There’s plenty of romantic devastation in pop songs with friendly beats and buoyant melodies on Rachel Keen’s album, but it’s not distinctive enoughRachel Keen has spent the past half-decade working overtime behind the pop scenes – lending her songwriting skills to various megastars (Beyoncé, Ellie Goulding, Little Mix), and her cool, assured vocals to a series of house DJs (Jax Jones, Martin Solveig, Jonas Blue). Now, the south Londoner is making a concerted effort to reroute her talents into her own steadily blossoming solo career, with a release that in less complicated times might have been billed as her debut album (the nine-track record is either her first “mini album”, or fifth EP, depending who you ask).

Contento: Lo Bueno Está Aquí review | Ammar Kalia’s global album of the month

by Ammar Kalia on 20th November 2020 at 8:30 am (El Palmas Music)Blending salsa with electronic elements, Afrobeat and lo-fi vocals, the Colombian duo bring infectious positivity to a classic genreIn the 1960s, salsa’s sprightly piano melodies, clave rhythms and syncopated percussion took off in New York, and its deeply kinetic combination became a popular form of dance music. It’s also a contentious umbrella term for a hybrid of Cuban dance styles such as the son montuno and mamba, as well as Puerto Rican bomba and the swing of Latin jazz. For Colombian producers Paulo Olarte and Sebastián Hoyos, AKA Contento, that made it ripe ground for reinterpretation. When they met at a concert given in 2011 by salsa pioneer Eddie Palmieri, they realised they shared a love for the music. Five years later, they began collaborating, meeting in their respective homes of Geneva and Barcelona, and using percussion, drum machines, keyboards and bass to produce a debut album that deftly merges Afro-Caribbean rhythms with a lo-fi take on the sun-dappled sound of Latin salsa.

Cabaret Voltaire: Shadow of Fear review – a fittingly dystopian fantasy from Sheffield’s industrial pioneers

by Alexis Petridis on 19th November 2020 at 3:00 pm (Mute)The first Cabaret Voltaire album in more than two decades feels oddly of the moment, their grim presentiments about disinformation, curfews and crackdowns fulfilledBetween 1974 and 1994, Cabaret Voltaire made a career out of being slightly ahead of the curve. They may well have been the world’s first industrial band. Throbbing Gristle coined the genre’s name, but more than a year before they formed, Cabaret Voltaire were ensconced in a Sheffield attic, experimenting with tape cut-ups inspired by William Burroughs, looped recordings of machinery in place of rhythms and churning electronic noise. When their sound shifted in the early 80s to something more commercially palatable, involving funk, the influence of New York electro and, eventually, collaborations with Chicago house pioneer Marshall Jefferson, it presaged their home town’s unique take on dance music, which eventually produced revered techno label Warp. Related: Sign up for the Sleeve Notes email: music news, bold reviews and unexpected extras

Koechlin: Les Chants de Nectaire review | Andrew Clements’s classical album of the week

by Andrew Clements on 19th November 2020 at 3:00 pm Nicola Woodward(Hoxa, three CDs, available separately)The French composer loved the flute and these short works are exquisite, be they playful, languorous or nostalgicCharles Koechlin’s huge output includes examples of almost every orchestral, instrumental and vocal genre; opera is the only significant omission from a work list that runs to well over 200 opus numbers. Among that wealth of music, much of it still seriously undervalued and underperformed, there are no less than 29 works for flute, an instrument that was particularly prominent in French music around the turn of the 20th century, and for which Koechlin seems to have retained a particular fondness throughout his life.Saint-Saëns: Sonates & Trios is released by Warner Classics/Erato on 27 November.

Benee: Hey U X review – endearingly careworn

by Michael Cragg on 15th November 2020 at 3:00 pm (Republic)The 20-year-old New Zealander’s charming debut is a patchwork of genre-hopping songs with a fragile edgeReleased at the end of last year, Supalonely – 20-year-old New Zealander Stella Bennett’s breakthrough hit – found a new life via TikTok in March, as lockdown gripped. Like the majority of songs on this endearingly careworn debut, it manages to be both breezy and broken, with Bennett softly cooing “I’m a sad girl, in this big world” over a wheezy take on disco.Keen to avoid being “that TikTok artist”, Bennett followed Supalonely with the weirder Snail, a bouncy electro-pop opus about her favourite gastropod. Her restlessness also manifests itself in the various genres the album careers between: the gorgeous, soft-focus opener Happen to Me, which explores the anxiety of overthinking, leans into woozy alt-rock; Kool is louche hip-hop interrupted by big, crunchy rock riffs, while the Grimes-assisted Sheesh tackles 90s house.

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