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November 2019 album reviews

November 2019 album reviews
Album reviews

Hannah Diamond: Reflections review – trance-pop rescued from good taste

by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 22nd November 2019 at 10:30 am (PC Music)On these melancholy bangers, the PC Music singer uses nursery rhyme-like melodies and a girlish sing-song delivery to essay the pain of being lovelorn and vulnerableHere’s an affecting companion piece to Caroline Polachek’s recently acclaimed Pang: another breakup album with production handled by one of the PC Music collective, who rescue trance-pop sonics from the tyranny of good taste. Polachek’s record featured work by Danny L Harle, while Diamond’s is produced by AG Cook. Where Polachek is erudite and poetic, Diamond is prosaic; where Polachek’s vocals are astonishingly skilful, swooping into high registers, Diamond’s are unremarkably ordinary. Continue reading…

Robbie Williams: The Christmas Present review – perfect for regifting

by Rachel Aroesti on 22nd November 2019 at 10:00 am (Columbia)Robbie does his full Rat Pack tribute act on a bunch of seasonal standards, and throws in some bonkers Christmas bonus songs of his ownLike your extended family after one too many mince pies, the Christmas album market is bloated and inert. Last year, everyone from Jessie J to William Shatner proffered their takes on the same old seasonal standards. Yet there are few musicians better suited to this cosily camp form than Robbie Williams: the 45-year-old’s career has been almost entirely fuelled by the kind of arch schmaltz that is the genre’s lifeblood. Continue reading…

by Dave Simpson on 22nd November 2019 at 9:30 am (Columbia) This posthumous album finds the poet and singer on reflective, insightful, deadpan form, ‘settling accounts of the soul’After finishing You Want It Darker, which was released just 19 days before his death in 2016, aged 82, Leonard Cohen still wanted to add to his tower of song. Thus, he kept on writing and recording as life ebbed away, and the result is this beautiful posthumous collection. His songwriter son Adam has assembled a stellar cast of musicians, such as Daniel Lanois, Jennifer Warnes and Spanish guitarist Javier Mas, to do justice to the unfinished home recordings. However, the sparse, sublime instrumentation never takes the focus away from Cohen’s inimitable voice, which is lush, deadpan, warm and poetic, with a hint of frailty adding to the sense of a final statement. Continue reading…

Beck: Hyperspace review – Pharrell collaboration never achieves lift-off

by Michael Hann on 22nd November 2019 at 9:00 am (Capitol) In what would have seemed a dream teaming early last decade, Pharrell Williams helped produce Beck’s occasionally lovely but unambitious 14th albumA few years ago, I asked Peter Buck what he missed about being in REM. “Being young and in the centre of my culture,” he replied. It’s a remark that came to mind when listening to the 14th studio album by Beck, seven of whose 11 tracks were co-produced and co-written by Pharrell Williams. This would have sounded like the most exciting collision of talents some time early in the last decade, the very definition of cultural centrality, but now makes one think: well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, wasn’t it? Continue reading…

Marius Neset: Viaduct review | John Fordham’s jazz album of the month

by John Fordham on 22nd November 2019 at 8:30 am (ACT)The Norwegian saxophonist and composer continues to trailblaze, here combining forms with intensity and brillianceFor most of its hundred years or so, the materials of jazz have been simple – 12-bar blues, popular song forms, dance beats, minimal modal structures, or no structures at all – and the ingenuity of improvisers has done the rest. But times have changed on either side of what was once the jazz/classical frontier. Marius Neset, the crossover-trailblazing 34-year-old Norwegian saxophonist and composer, issues the latest proof of that with the London Sinfonietta-commissioned Viaduct, successor to 2016’s intricately crafted, action-packed Snowmelt, with the same ensemble.Neset confirms again how willing he is to go the extra mile in creatively unpicking the methods of 20th-century composers from Grieg to Stravinsky, Bartók and Mahler to Messiaen. The precocious sax virtuoso of 2010 has evolved an integrated vision with a different kind of power, with the first of two suites here highlighting the ensemble, and the second Neset’s dynamic Euro jazz quintet, including UK pianist Ivo Neame, vibraphonist Jim Hart and drummer Anton Eger. Soft, slowly deepening strings daydreams are barged into by frenetic, Stravinskyesque dances of gurgling woodwinds and darting flute lines early on. Quizzical solo violin passages meet pattering percussion before Neset’s tenor enters with a twisting postbop-sax jazz theme, and rugged, Charlie Haden-like bass rejoinders from Petter Eldh. A marimba vamp underpinned by deep woodwinds suggests Afrobeat, and Neset drifts in and out of cat-and-mouse Wayne Shorter phrasing, languidly slewing themes, reminiscent of Loose Tubes, sometimes nodding to the saxophonist’s mentor, Django Bates. Swooning romantic-movie purrs turn to urgent jazz exchanges for Neame, Eldh and Eger in the later stages. Neset’s voracious musical mind clearly absorbs swathes of new data fast, and he’s reprocessing his classical acquisitions with an intensity that can leave you pleading for him to back off – but maybe that’s a price worth paying to witness a rare kind of contemporary composer/player coming into his own. Continue reading…

Stockhausen: Kontakte (Barton/Rhys) review | classical album of the week

by Andrew Clements on 21st November 2019 at 3:00 pm George Barton/Siwan Rhys (All That Dust, download only) Percussionist Barton and pianist Rhys’s binaural recording adds another dimension to Stockhausen’s textures and reveal his musical thinkingAlmost every work that Karlheinz Stockhausen wrote in the 1950s seemed to break new ground, but few have had a more lasting impact than Kontakte, which he planned in 1958 and realised over the following two years in the electronic studios of West German Radio. The score exists in two versions – as a purely electronic work on tape, following the equally groundbreaking Gesang der Jünglinge that Stockhausen had completed immediately before it, and as an electro-acoustic piece (his first, and one of the first ever composed), in which the prerecorded sounds are combined with live instruments, a piano and percussion.The electronic music was created as a four-channel tape, and that vivid, spatial element of the work emerges with startling immediacy in this first binaural recording of the electro-acoustic version, with percussionist George Barton and pianist Siwan Rhys. Heard through headphones, their performance gives a tingling sense of the aural perspectives that played such an important role in Stockhausen’s musical thinking at that time, and which he had just explored in the concert hall with Gruppen, for three orchestras. Continue reading…

Coldplay: Everyday Life review | Alexis Petridis’s album of the week

by Alexis Petridis on 21st November 2019 at 1:32 pm (Parlophone)The band’s new double album mixes more of their melodically watertight stadium pop with dabblings in the genres they are least suited to dabble inThe internal psychology of rock bands is a tricky thing for outsiders to fathom but, 21 years on from their debut single, it’s pretty clear Coldplay are driven by two often conflicting impulses. The first is to be the biggest band in the world, a desire that was evident from the start in their amenable, uncontroversial songs dealing in generalities and emotions expressed so vaguely that anyone could relate to them. This instinct made them impressively adaptable, and when guitar rock’s currency crashed, they slipped easily into co-writes with Avicii and pop super-producers Stargate, and arranged guest appearances from Rihanna and the Chainsmokers.The other is an impulse to experiment. One suspects it’s not something to which Coldplay are naturally suited – invited to compile a streaming service playlist of influences, they opted for pub jukebox crowd-pleasers by Bob Marley, Oasis and REM – but they keep giving it a go, tapping up electronic auteurs Brian Eno and Jon Hopkins for ideas, and releasing concept albums and pseudonymous dabblings in African music. Related: No more mellow Yellow: why Coldplay are pop’s weirdest band Continue reading…

Céline Dion: Courage review – a quirky catharsis

by Michael Cragg on 17th November 2019 at 3:00 pm (Columbia)The Québécois balladeer’s first English-language album in six years opens with a shock. Recorded in the aftermath of her husband’s death in 2016, Courage is suffused with lyrics about loss and rebirth, themes you’d expect to be bolted to Titanic-sized ballads. But on opener Flying on My Own, those emotions are anchored to a gloriously camp electro-dance stomper, with Dion’s powerhouse voice ricocheting around a squelchy 2010-era beat. The tempo suits her, so it’s a shame that it’s followed by the plodding Lovers Never Die and Dion-by-numbers throat ravager Falling in Love Again. There are little pockets of experimentation elsewhere, most notably in the strange electronic embellishments that zip around the empowerment anthem Lying Down, and the closing Perfect Goodbye, which pairs restrained vocals with a suite of cascading pianos.A talented interpreter, Dion comes unstuck when she can’t overcome the source material. On Baby she sounds exactly like the song’s co-writer, Sia, while any emotion in a suite of vintage soul ballads is crushed by Dion’s vocal athleticism. She’s on safer ground on the lilting Say Yes, a spacious, guitar-assisted highlight that communicates Courage’s key theme: catharsis. Continue reading…

Pumarosa: Devastation review – brooding turbo-anguish

by Kate Hutchinson on 17th November 2019 at 1:00 pm (Fiction)Pumarosa have long called their sound “industrial spiritual”, but the London band’s second album takes it to a bracing new level, as they sack off the indie guitars of their 2017 debut The Witch and embrace obsidian synths. Its title might suggest despair but this is an album about overcoming, and of frontwoman Isabel Muñoz-Newsome confronting desire and her sexuality following her recovery from cervical cancer. It’s not bleak, it’s rather sensual, while musically there is a jagged line between the recent Sleater-Kinney album, its producer St Vincent and Vincent’s usual studio whiz, John Congleton, who is – stay with me – also on Devastation duties.And so, Fall Apart and Adam’s Song reach for drum’n’bass (echoes of Pendulum; Portishead), heady trance-pop and squelchy acid on Heaven (echoes of Smalltown Boy), while Lose Control, a galloping goth-pop song and easily their best, shows they’ve got the choruses if they want them (echoes of U2). For some, Pumarosa’s brand of brooding turbo-anguish went out with PVC trousers, but even though the tortured lyrics can feel a little cloying, Devastation is proof that it’s not just Trent Reznor who can play sexy machine-rave and sing about shagging. Continue reading…

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy: I Made a Place review – older, wiser and happier

by Kitty Empire on 17th November 2019 at 9:00 am (Domino)“Looking for a recommendation for an artist residency that takes small families with two working artist parents?” tweeted Will Oldham recently. The Americana outrider with the shining pate is now coupled up, with small fry on board. His newest album sings mellifluously of true love (“complete transfiguration”, according to You Know the One) and memory boxes, of building something lasting. “My cookie jar is here,” he sings on Dream Awhile, an adult lullaby extolling the succour of a good night’s sleep. A peak-Billy melody and Joan Shelley backing vocals compound the loveliness.Naturally, Oldham sees things differently to others – he has an “eye for the squid”, as the song of the same name puts it. The darkening sky looms. Harm is “swarming round”. On This Is Far From Over, a simple folk tune, Oldham envisions “shorelines gone and maps destroyed” and advises teaching your children to swim. But these 13 tracks tell, musically, of the years of collaboration, covers and self-examination since 2011’s Wolfroy Goes to Town. It’s a process that has re-seeded a jolly solidarity in Oldham. These tunes relish their flutes and organs, horns and strings. Crucially, hope plays off against the bleakness. “Fill me up, pour me another,” he sings on The Glow, Part 3, “I can still see the light of day.” Continue reading…

Home listening: two-for-the-price-of-one Handel and Bach

by Nicholas Kenyon on 17th November 2019 at 5:30 am The Dunedin Consort’s new Samson comes with and without mixed choir, while Víkingur Ólafsson reworks his brilliant Bach recital• No one can accuse the Dunedin Consort of doing things by halves. For their new recording of Handel’s Samson (Linn), they are offering two complete versions of the oratorio, one on disc and one via download. The arias and recitatives remain the same, but the choruses are completely reworked, with a mixed choir on the discs (the soloists joined by the bright voices of the Tiffin Boys’ Choir) and a soloists-only ensemble on the download. I firmly prefer the tonal contrast and youthful freshness of the mixed choir, but it’s a luxury to have both.Samson (1743) has always been popular among Handel’s great oratorios, maybe partly the story (with its fine text from Milton’s Samson Agonistes) is so well-known. But early on you begin to question whether the music stands up to Handel’s greatest works of the early 1740s, Messiah and L’Allegro, especially when it is recorded here with totally uncut recitatives. However, towards the end of Act 2, with the superb chorus Hear, Jacob’s God, it suddenly deepens, and Act 3 is a masterpiece. Continue reading…

Echoes of Swing: Winter Days at Schloss Elmau review – delightful cold comfort

by Dave Gelly on 16th November 2019 at 4:00 pm (ACT)If you’re looking for a seasonal album with a touch of class, this is it. Echoes of Swing are a quartet who take delight in exploring new approaches to classic jazz styles. The results are unfailingly witty, affectionate and faultlessly played. They are based in Germany, have been together for more than 20 years and have a keen following in Europe. This time, to their trumpet, alto saxophone, piano and drums they have added double bass, guitar and, most importantly, the voice of American vocalist Rebecca Kilgore.The programme, with a winter theme, is a mixture of old favourites, such as Winter Wonderland (disconcertingly recast in 5/4 time), settings of poems (Robert Frost, Emily Brontë, Shakespeare), some originals and a few rarities by Antônio Carlos Jobim, Burt Bacharach and others. The arrangements are imaginative, the solos brief and to the point, and Kilgore handles a bewildering variety of material with impressive poise. It adds up to a delightful 50-odd minutes, and you don’t have to be a jazz buff to enjoy it, just reasonably musical. Schloss Elmau, by the way, is a spa and “cultural hideaway” in the Bavarian Alps. Continue reading…

Arthur Russell: Iowa Dream review – lopsided, funky and staggeringly beautiful

by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 15th November 2019 at 10:30 am (Audika)This collection of unreleased tracks from the electronic pioneer is a treasure trove of Russell’s guileless, always melodic songsWhen he died in 1992 of Aids-related illnesses at the age of 40, Arthur Russell left behind one of the most staggeringly beautiful bodies of songwriting ever – and it is still emerging. This compilation of unreleased tracks from his archive mostly date from the mid-1970s, recalling the country-tinged songwriting collected on 2008’s Love Is Overtaking Me, with a scattering of the lopsided, slightly wacky funk and new wave he scaled up to in the 80s. Continue reading…

Shanti Celeste: Tangerine review – club music with subtlety and depth

by Aimee Cliff on 15th November 2019 at 10:00 am (Peach Discs) The Bristolian DJ and producer’s nuanced debut is an enveloping listen, folding softer textures into its 2am beatsThe transition from DJ to album artist is a tricky one. While one art is about reading the room, the other is a more isolated and intimate experience. For Bristolian Shanti Celeste, on her debut full-length Tangerine, it’s an opportunity to show subtlety and depths that she doesn’t often have space to explore on the dancefloor. Continue reading…

Tindersticks: No Treasure But Hope review – more subdued loveliness

by Michael Hann on 15th November 2019 at 9:30 am (City Slang)The band’s world is a compellingly strange, crepuscular place, into which some warmth is allowed to dripThe oddest thing on Tindersticks’ 12th album is its longest track, See My Girls. Stuart Staples, a mannered singer anyway, sounds as if he has been studying Ron Moody playing Fagin in Oliver! And the lyric he delivers in that sly and insinuating voice is set in an unspecified past, in which cameras and newsstands are still everyday things. On the walls of his kiosk, the narrator has pinned the photos his girls have sent him from their travels – Paris, Rome, the Pyramids – via some very odd phrasing (“The tall buildings of the Americas / Skyscrapers as they are known.” Skyscrapers, you say? Really?). Eventually they end up at the scenes of death: Flanders, Birkenau, Cambodia, Yemen, Israel and Palestine. And then it’s back to turtles and dolphins and trees. It appears to be the blandest of all messages: well, the world’s a rum old place, eh? Musically it is so compelling – a twisting, droning, spidery piece – that it only makes the lyric seem odder. Continue reading…

Lil Peep: Everybody’s Everything review – posthumous chills and thrills

by Dave Simpson on 15th November 2019 at 9:00 am (Columbia) This variously sad, rocking and indifferent compilation sees the SoundCloud rapper mining a new theme: unrequited love Lil Peep’s death from a drugs overdose in 2017 hasn’t stopped a thriving industry continuing in the emo rapper’s wake. Last year’s Come Over When You’re Sober Pt 2 compiled unreleased material found on his laptop by his mother. And the new documentary Everybody’s Everything traces 21-year-old Gustav Åhr’s progress from SoundCloud rapper to mercurial talent who struggled with mental health, fame and addiction. Continue reading…

Sound Portraits from Bulgaria review | Jude Rogers’s folk album of the month

by Jude Rogers on 15th November 2019 at 8:30 am (Smithsonian Folkways)Martin Koenig’s wonderful collection, recorded in rural Bulgaria between 1966 and 1979, is quietly heroicOn the edges of eastern Europe, Anatolia and the Black Sea, an incredible wealth of folk music kept flowing long after other countries saw their traditions decline. This fascinating release from Smithsonian Folkways compiles music recorded in rural Bulgaria between 1966 and 1979. This is tradition in the raw – diverse, complex and moving by turns – and the story behind it is quietly heroic. Continue reading…

Schubert Symphony No 9 review | Erica Jeal’s classical album of the week

by Erica Jeal on 14th November 2019 at 3:00 pm SCO/Emelyanychev (Linn) Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev inspires the SCO in Schubert’s massive work, with grandeur and great washes of feelingThis autumn, Maxim Emelyanychev took up his new post as the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s principal conductor. If the appointment of the 30-year-old from Nizhny Novgorod – best newcomer at the 2019 international opera awards, and equally at home at Glyndebourne or in Teodor Currentzis’s iconoclastic Perm theatre – seemed like a good one on paper, then it appears positively inspired now that their first recording together has been released. Continue reading…

Céline Dion: Courage review | Alexis Petridis’s album of the week

by Alexis Petridis on 14th November 2019 at 12:00 pm (Columbia)A team of young, hip producers signals Dion’s newfound cult status, but it’s the wobbly-lipped ballads, not EDM, that she does like no one elseFor decades, you knew where you were with Céline Dion. She belted out power ballads, she wowed the crowds in Vegas, she sold millions and millions of records. And she would never, ever be fashionable. There were no unexpectedly funky B-sides for DJs to dig out and confound the dancefloor with; no forgotten early concept album (bar an unreleased Phil Spector collaboration) hinting at an intriguing musical path not subsequently followed. Dion seemed to have arrived pretty much as she remained: parked defiantly in the middle of the road, flicking the Vs – or whatever gesture the Québecois use to express disdain –at passing trends. Indeed, Canadian critic Carl Wilson used her 1997 album Let’s Talk About Love as the basis for a book interrogating the meaning of so-called bad taste. Related: All hail Céline Dion – the joyous new queen of fashion Related: Sign up for the Sleeve Notes email: music news, bold reviews and unexpected extras Continue reading…

Anna Meredith: FIBS review – boldly idiosyncratic

by Damien Morris on 10th November 2019 at 5:30 am (Moshi Moshi)Classical composer turned pop producer Anna Meredith, whose career still ranges from symphonic performance to body percussion, debuted in 2016 with Varmints. That album gamely mixed electronic and acoustic, instrumental and vocal, to uneven but intriguing effect. FIBS plays in the same sandpit, but too many songs feel inconsequential, disappearing as you listen to them. Moonmoons is briefly promising, before it loses interest in itself. More typically, Inhale Exhale begins like a headache and gets steadily more annoying.You could maybe salvage Bump, a brassy, over-caffeinated number that might be remixed into a more brutally effective piece. Similarly, Calion’s tasteful techno threatens to uncoil into something Jon Hopkins would be proud of, but Meredith lacks his feel for the floor, his call to the hips. Continue reading…

 

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