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Latest albums – January 2020

Latest albums – January 2020
Album reviews

Sam Lee: Old Wow review – Britain’s nature crisis in gnarly song

by Jude Rogers on 31st January 2020 at 8:30 am (Cooking Vinyl)

Lee’s twee-free third album, produced by Bernard Butler and featuring Liz Fraser, is a stark reminder of this country’s environmental concernsSam Lee has always sat slightly awkwardly within folk music. He has a raffish campness live, that betrays his past as a burlesque dancer. He had a Top 20 single last year when he edited birdsong together for the RSPB’s Let Nature Sing. He’s now made an album produced by guitar demigod Bernard Butler, with guest vocals from the Cocteau Twins’ rarely heard Liz Fraser. Such cheek only reveals his desire to project his love of folk further.Old Wow is Lee’s phrase about the enduring power of nature. But the crisis that surrounds it twists its gnarly roots around these songs. His choices are obviously political: in Turtle Dove, he isn’t mourning a metaphorical lover, as many have before him, but the actual bird, which is facing extinction. In The Moon Shines Bright, a song Lee collected from Gypsy singer Freda Black, he mourns “our time is not long / Time’s an old folk song”, as Liz Fraser sings a fragment of Scottish ballad Wild Mountain Thyme around him, high and eerie like a nightingale, about the summertime blooming. The effect is urgent, far from twee.

Clairières: Songs by Lili and Nadia Boulanger review – perfect advocacy for sibling composers

by Andrew Clements on 30th January 2020 at 3:00 pm

Nicholas Phan/Myra Huang (Avie)Tenor Nicholas Phan and pianist Myra Hang do perfect justice to vocal works by the Boulanger sisters, illustrating their contrasting stylistic leaningsLast year, tenor Nicholas Phan and pianist Myra Huang built a recital disc around Fauré’s song cycle La Bonne Chanson. They have followed it with a disc devoted to the songs of two composers who knew Fauré from their childhoods. Lili Boulanger, who died during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic at the age of 24, is recognised as one of the 20th century’s great unfulfilled talents, while her elder sister Nadia, who died in 1979, went on to become one of its most influential teachers , espousing the doctrine of neoclassicism.

Destroyer: Have We Met review – synth-pop adventures in small-hours terror

by Alexis Petridis on 30th January 2020 at 12:00 pm (Dead Oceans)

Dan Bejar seems to be channelling superficially shiny 80s pop but beneath the surface of this off-beam album lingers a similar sense of alarmIt’s not intended as snark or faint praise when I describe Destroyer as very much an acquired taste. It’s more a statement of fact. Singer-songwriter Dan Bejar, who more or less is Destroyer, has a hefty cult following, who have accompanied him through the series of baffling stylistic shifts that have constituted Destroyer’s career to date: come for the abstruse lo-fi racket of We’ll Build Them a Golden Bridge, stay for the 13-minute disco workout on Bay of Pigs, or the ambient collaboration with Tim Hecker, Archer on the Beach. They’ve even invented a Destroyer drinking game: take a shot whenever Bejar hits on one of the overarching lyrical themes they insist give coherence and uniformity to his oeuvre. Drink if there’s a reference to fire or other disaster; drink twice for mention of an apocalypse. Related: Sign up for the Sleeve Notes email: music news, bold reviews and unexpected extras.

Poliça: When We Stay Alive review – airs of elegant detachment

by Phil Mongredien on 26th January 2020 at 3:00 pm (Memphis Industries)

Minneapolis’s Poliça set out their stall on their excellent 2012 debut, Give You the Ghost. With Ryan Olson’s ahead-of-its-time blend of indie, alt-R&B and electronica the perfect foil for Channy Leaneagh’s effects-smothered vocals, the overall feel was like a pitchshifted Cat Power fronting Portishead. But as the years have passed, rather than taking that experimental streak anywhere, they’ve continued to mine the same seam of elegant dinner-party music.Given that it was written either side of a 2018 fall from a roof that left Leaneagh with a damaged spine and in a back brace, their fourth album could have been a chance to explore new horizons. There’s a less abstract approach to the lyrics, with Leaneagh referencing the dynamics of her family (Steady) and a failing relationship (Forget Me Now). But even when she sings about intensely personal issues, such as on the standout Be Again, about her recovery from her fall and how she had to learn how to sing again, her voice is so heavily treated that the lyrics are hard to decipher, giving an air of detachment that’s at odds with the tone of the lyrics. With none of the material really cutting through the production wizardry, this is another triumph for texture over songwriting.

Halsey: Manic review – sounds a bit like everything you know, but better

by Kate Hutchinson on 26th January 2020 at 1:00 pm (Capitol)

If Billie Eilish is the US pop star already defining the 2020s with her low-key rasp, then 25-year-old Halsey feels like the Pink to her Robyn. Both have grammar-averse tracklistings and are celebrated for their “hyper-specific” lyrics, whatever that means, ticking off subjects including depression, drugs and body image. Halsey’s amorphous sound, however, while hoovering up clickety R&B, alt-rock, country and Lana Del Rey’s oeuvre, also reaches the blare-your-lungs-out heights of emo bands such as My Chemical Romance. A guest feature from Alanis Morissette suggests a passing of the angsty baton.Halsey is less a pop chameleon than a musical magpie and Manic is a pristinely produced album that sounds a bit like everything you know, but better (Still Learning is a banger, like Evanescence with steelpan). Her songs illuminate the anxiety of fame, questioning her own narcissism and neediness with unusually brutal detail. She is, possibly, as underlined by the film dialogue lifted from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on Clementine, “just a fucked-up girl looking for my own piece of mind,” which is far more relatable than a ponytail-perfect star singing about empowerment. It’s no wonder her music is finally connecting.

Pet Shop Boys: Hotspot review – evergreen dancefloor nous

by Kitty Empire on 26th January 2020 at 9:00 am (x2/Kobalt)

Neil Tennant has never been one to shy away from the issues, but during his 35 years as a cerebral pop operator, he has usually held them at arm’s length, a Mona Lisa smile on his lips. This sangfroid cracked last year, when Pet Shop Boys released a political four-song EP about the breakdown of democracy. However satisfying it was to hear Tennant speaking more plainly, Hotspot – the band’s 14th album – returns to more sophisticated ways. Related: Pet Shop Boys: ‘The acoustic guitar should be banned’

Home listening: August Stradal, the Kitgut Quartet and Kenneth Hamilton

by Nicholas Kenyon on 26th January 2020 at 5:30 am

Stradal’s Buxtehude arrangements, the origins of the string quartet, and a personal take on Dowland prove revelatory• For me, and it seems for many others (more than 7m hits on Spotify and counting), a standout classical music track of recent times is Víkingur Ólafsson’s hypnotic rendering of an organ trio sonata movement by Bach in the vividly pianistic transcription by August Stradal (1860-1930). Now a complete disc of first recordings of Stradal piano transcriptions has appeared, of works by Bach’s contemporary Dietrich Buxtehude, whom Bach famously walked many miles to hear.

Landgren & Lundgren: Kristallen review – tranquil Nordic jazz

by Dave Gelly on 25th January 2020 at 4:00 pm (ACT)

My only difficulty with this Swedish duo is in remembering which is which. Nils Landgren is the trombonist, Jan Lundgren is the pianist and they’re both brilliant. Between them, they are masters of many styles, from funk and R&B to swing, but here they meet in the shared Nordic territory of jazz chamber music. It’s light, precise and tranquil, tinged at times with a kind of fragile nostalgia. Along with their own compositions and arrangements of traditional tunes, they include pieces by Keith Jarrett, Abdullah Ibrahim, Jimmy Webb, Hoagy Carmichael and the Beatles.These all sound at home in this gentle setting, and the unlikely combination of piano and trombone (often at the very top of its range) can be quite magical. It’s particularly effective in the opening number, Lundgren’s Blekinge and in the lively interplay of Byssan Lull, a Swedish folk song that mysteriously turns into a blues. Landgren also sings on several tracks. He has an attractive light-husky voice and his intonation is perfect, but most of us are so used to hearing voice and piano as simply singer and accompanist, that some of the unique flavour is lost.

Nicolas Godin: Concrete and Glass review

by Michael Hann on 24th January 2020 at 10:30 am (Because Music)

The former Air member’s second solo album is a paean to various architects the veers between elegant and insipid It’s hard to credit now how revolutionary Air’s first album, Moon Safari, sounded in 1998 – a soufflé of a record so light and fluffy it was irresistible. Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel had the same retro-futurist bent as Broadcast, but they also had a sweet tooth for bubblegum to go with their gauzy electronica. The range of musical reference has broadened since then, but Concrete and Glass has a familiar wooziness about it.Where Godin’s first record, Contrepoint, was inspired by Bach – not that you’d know – this one is the soundtrack to a series of site-specific installations paying tribute to various architects.

Okay Kaya: Watch This Liquid Pour Itself review

by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 24th January 2020 at 10:00 am (Jagjaguwar)

Kaya Wilkins’ second album ranges from confessional blood-letting to 50s ballads and disco-pop – in her own inimitable styleOn this beguiling second album by New York singer Kaya Wilkins, it’s as if heartbreak has been translated into her native Norwegian and back again via some dodgy machine learning: there’s something wonderfully off about her tales of thwarted lust. An excruciating date is sketched out on Zero Interaction Ramen Bar as “my parasite and I are blushing: a cold one and a sentient dumpling”. At another point she disarmingly admits: “I know sex with me is mediocre / but I can give you asexual wellbeing.” Perhaps the sense of wonkiness is pharmacological in nature. “What if the pills I take will stop me getting wet?” she frets on one of the best tracks, opener Baby Little Tween, and Psych Ward has her dutifully necking more pills as chaos reigns: “Crisis management on the intercom in the psych ward,” she notes with dry detachment, a really funny moment.

Wire: Mind Hive review – sinewy, stripped-back, fearful – and beautiful

by Alexis Petridis on 24th January 2020 at 9:30 am (Pink Flag)

The band have added taut melodies, lush electronics and lyrics of prickling anxiety to the distorted guitar chaos: this is such a good album The career of Wire, frontman Colin Newman once proudly announced, is “a one-way trip”. It’s not an idle boast. On stage today, you might get one song from their “classic” 70s albums or their first reunion in the 80s, but it’s best not to book a ticket under that assumption: whole tours have gone by where Wire barely acknowledged they had a past at all.

Twin Atlantic: Power review

by Rachel Aroesti on 24th January 2020 at 9:00 am (Virgin EMI)

Sam McTrusty and co break out the 80s electronic palette for their fifth album, full of hooks and ideas – too many at timesAs the charts bristle with elliptical trap chants and the patchwork motifs of too-cool-for-choruses pop, your best bet for big, euphoric melodies now seems to be the world of sweat-drenched, leather-jacketed, sleeve-tattooed rock. Twin Atlantic are notably capable purveyors of that kind of impassioned and uncomplicated anthemic rush – just try to remain unmoved in the face of their scuzzily saccharine 2014 hit Heart and Soul. In fact, the only thing about the trio that doesn’t feel expressly engineered for moshpit ecstasy is frontman Sam McTrusty’s thick Scottish accent, which reorientates the band’s soaring hooks against grey Glasgow skies.

Squarepusher: Be Up a Hello

by Shawn Reynaldo on 31st January 2020 at 6:00 am

On his first proper album in five years, Tom Jenkinson patches together a passel of vintage hardware to revisit the breakbeat mayhem and drill’n’bass hijinks of his early years.

If I Am Only My Thoughts

by Jamieson Cox on 31st January 2020 at 6:00 am

The debut LP from this Canadian folk-pop trio radiates immediacy and approachability.

Basic Plumbing: Keeping Up Appearances

by Jesse Dorris on 31st January 2020 at 6:00 am

Scottish indie-pop musician Patrick Doyle died in 2018, just 32; this posthumous recording with bassist and tourmate Helen Skinner offers a poignant snapshot of his “bent music for bent people.”

Pet Shot Boys: Hotspot

by Alfred Soto on 30th January 2020 at 6:00 am

On their 14th studio album, the best-selling duo in UK pop dampen the euphoria; the result is a tuneful, wan album that lands somewhere in the middle of their rich catalogue.

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