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September 2019 album reviews

September 2019 album reviews
Album reviews


Miles Davis: Rubberband review – slim pickings

by Dave Gelly on 8th September 2019 at 7:00 am (Rhino/Warner)Newly signed to the Warner Bros label in 1985, Miles Davis set about recording an album intended to capture a new, young audience. He was given a more or less free hand and there were rumours of Chaka Khan and Al Jarreau being involved. But after three months, Warners, impatient at what they considered to be a lack of progress, pulled the plug. The tapes were shelved and there they remained for 34 years, until tracked down by Miles’s nephew, Vince Wilburn Jr, who had been the drummer on the aborted album.The idea was to finish it and present the result as a long-delayed new work, featuring vocalists Ledisi and Lalah Hathaway. The Davis trumpet is unmistakable, even when processed through wah-wah, echo, etc, but there’s not enough of him. On See I See, the only track on which he really features, we get a taste of characteristic late Miles, but it fades after about four minutes. The rest is scraps and tantalising hints. That’s all the producers had to work with. Davis completists will grab this, but others may find there’s just not enough meat in the sandwich. Continue reading… […]

Iggy Pop: Free review – enjoyably quixotic

by Phil Mongredien on 8th September 2019 at 7:00 am (Loma Vista/Caroline)The highlights of Iggy Pop’s solo career have generally come about when he’s been taken under the wing of a big-name collaborator, from Bowie in the 1970s to, more recently, Underworld and Josh Homme, who produced 2016’s Post Pop Depression, scoring Iggy his first UK top five album at the age of 68. True to quixotic form, Free doesn’t build on the success of that record, Iggy veering off at yet another tangent, courtesy of avant garde guitarist Noveller, aka Sarah Lipstate, and jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas.Thomas’s mournful solos are foregrounded throughout, and Noveller’s contributions are subtle rather than showy, while Iggy intones instead of singing, recalling Johnny Cash’s American albums, which gives the likes of We Are the People and the title track a pleasingly meditative feel. Continue reading… […]

Mahalia: Love and Compromise review – breezy, mellow soul-pop

by Kitty Empire on 8th September 2019 at 7:00 am (Warner) Mahalia’s overly anointed status still raises the hackles somewhat. Signed since she was 13, the Leicester singer-songwriter enjoyed early support from Ed Sheeran, putting out a 2016 debut project, Diary of Me, whose freshness was hampered by its fence-sitting between guitar balladry and soul. Love and Compromise is technically the 21-year-old’s second album, but is being pushed as her debut proper. It resolves the genre problem, having opted for an eclectic take on British soul-pop. Despite the emotional content here, Mahalia exudes a breezy mellowness, with thoroughly 2019 themes rubbing up against retro stylings.Do Not Disturb feels like a natural successor to Mahalia’s best-known older track, Sober. Where Sober was inspired by her tendency to text while tipsy, Do Not Disturb finds her locating her phone’s leave-me-alone function. There other modish inflections here: the trap skitters of What You Did, and the 90s R&B moves of He’s Mine. Mahalia’s distinctive coo and audible Caribbean heritage dovetails naturally with the global moment for dancehall, so that on-trend moments such as Simmer (featuring Nigerian Afrobeats powerhouse Burna Boy) feel organic rather than laboured. Contrary to the default sizzle of both genres, however, Mahalia is telling a love interest to simmer down. Elsewhere, the desire for mutual respect and a suspicion of compromise (voiced by an Eartha Kitt sample) also echoes loud and clear. Continue reading… […]

Bat for Lashes: Lost Girls review – the everyday supernatural

by Emily Mackay on 8th September 2019 at 6:59 am (Awal)Development hell has many circles, into one of which fell the sequel to Joel Schumacher’s classic 1987 teen-goth film The Lost Boys; despite several attempts by Schumacher and others, The Lost Girls never appeared.Enter Natasha Khan, the UK’s premier purveyor of musical spookery, who thought she’d have a bash at making her own version of the film. Somewhere along the line, the songs she’d been working on as the film’s soundtrack took over, and Lost Girls became an album instead. Not development hell this time, but a heavenly accident: inspired by a wider 80s film nostalgia, these narrative songs conjure intimate, urgent dialogue and the eruption of the supernatural into the everyday. Continue reading… […]

Home listening: Brahms, Schumann – and Henry Wood

by Stephen Pritchard on 8th September 2019 at 6:59 am Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien turn to Brahms. Plus, Schumann’s annus mirabilis with Simon Wallfisch and Edward Rushton• With the chill of approaching autumn descending, it seems an appropriate time to listen to Brahms’s Violin Sonatas, imbued as they are with such wistful nostalgia, particularly No 1 in G major, Op 78. Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cédric Tiberghien have a new recording of all three sonatas out on Hyperion, their long-standing partnership having already produced a memorable Hyperion Mozart series.The song-like nature of the first two Brahms sonatas is very much to the fore, Ibragimova playing with a miraculously sinuous vocal line, graceful, sonorous and at times heartbreakingly tender. Tiberghien is both poetic and magisterial, particularly in the first movement of the second sonata, Op 100, which requires a huge range of colour and dynamic contrast, all beautifully realised here. Continue reading… […]

Chrissie Hynde: Valve Bone Woe review – offbeat jazz with rock star cool

by Rachel Aroesti on 6th September 2019 at 9:30 am (BMG) Hynde’s album of covers is inviting and interesting, thanks to her insouciant attitude Chrissie Hynde has offered up various justifications for her latest record, a collection of jazz-facing covers of classic tracks. One is that she found belated inspiration in her 1994 duet with Frank Sinatra; another is a newfound desire to sing melodies – having recently observed their “decline” in popular music. Or, perhaps, she is simply following the winds of change: according to the Pretenders frontwoman, the “demise of rock” has prompted a jazz resurgence, and she wants in. Continue reading… […]

Octo Octa: Resonant Body review – upbeat, free-spirited electronica

by Tayyab Amin on 6th September 2019 at 9:00 am (T4t Luv Nrg)Octo Octa’s trans journey is mirrored in her electronic palette, using crunching beats, ambience and supple synths on celebratory tracksFor Octo Octa, music has been a journey of self-discovery that’s mirrored the development of her own identity. The electronic music producer and DJ publicly came out as trans in 2016 and refers to prior albums such as Between Two Selves as a “coded message” for her experiences. Since that pivotal moment, she’s found herself embraced by queer scenes all over, a shift that goes hand-in-hand with her move away from live sets and towards DJing, following a year of heavy touring. Her dance music baptism came in the form of drum’n’bass and breakcore, where percussive chaos channelled the same free-spirited energy she now also finds in house music. All three genres serve as major influences for her latest album, created in her New Hampshire cabin home. Continue reading… […]

The Highwomen: The Highwomen review – country supergroup shatter macho cliches

by Michael Hann on 6th September 2019 at 8:30 am (Low Country Sound/Elektra)The all-star quartet upend rootsy conventions to hit some rollicking highs – but can’t fully escape the classic pitfallsIn 1985, Johnny Cash had to sing, with a straight face, arguably the silliest lyric of his career. Taking the final verse of Jimmy Webb’s Highwayman, a title song for the country supergroup of which Cash was a member, he stepped up to the mic and intoned: “I fly a starship / Across the universe divide.” In rewriting the song for their own supergroup, Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires – joined by Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby – ditched the rippling muscles of the song’s original roles (as well as starship captain, there was a highwayman, a sailor and a dam-builder) in favour of a refugee, a doctor killed as a witch in Salem, a freedom rider and a preacher. It’s still a little hokey, but as a counter to the men-in-black outlaw concept of the original Highwaymen, it does its job, placing what is to follow in country’s lineage but also separating the Highwomen from old cliches: “Rosie the riveter with renovations,” as the second track, Redesigning Women, puts it. Continue reading… […]

Bat for Lashes: Lost Girls review – sunny Cali-flavoured vampire pop

by Aimee Cliff on 6th September 2019 at 8:00 am (AWAL)This has to be Natasha Khan’s most playful album yet, recorded for pleasure in the US and centred around a desert-dwelling blood-sucking girl gang ‘Why does it hurt so good?” feels like an eternal pop question. Followed by the carefree refrain, “You don’t treat me like you sho-ooo-oould”, it could easily be a haunting chorus sung by a 1960s girl group, or a gothic 80s power ballad, or a 00s R&B cut: all sugar and sweetness, delivered from a place of real pain. Actually, it’s the hook of So Good, one of the standout synth-powered pop songs on Bat for Lashes’ fifth studio album. Continue reading… […]

Tinariwan: Amadjar review | Ammar Kalia’s global album of the month

by Ammar Kalia on 6th September 2019 at 7:30 am (Anti Records) Tinariwen’s ninth album brings guests including Warren Ellis but the real artistry is in their own deft, fearless interplayThere is a hazy expansiveness to Tuareg band Tinariwen’s music that recalls the desert setting in which it was created. Fuzzy guitars are rhythmically picked over undulating rhythms and gravelly baritone vocals; it is almost as if you can hear a sand-laden breeze passing between the mics as the band record. Continue reading… […]

Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas review | Andrew Clements’s classical album of the week

by Andrew Clements on 5th September 2019 at 2:00 pm Igor Levit (Sony Classical, nine CDs) Levit scales the heights over nine CDs, though excessive speed means musical sense is lost in some sonatasIgor Levit made his debut on disc in 2013 with Beethoven sonatas, and not just any group of sonatas, but the final five, Opp 101, 106, 109, 110 and 111, which rank among the greatest works ever composed for the instrument. A startlingly self-confident way in which to launch a recording career, Levit followed it up, two years later, with the release of his account of Beethoven’s monumental Diabelli Variations, as part of a set that also included Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Frederic Rzewski’s Variations on The People United Will Never Be Defeated! Levit has only now completed his cycle of the sonatas, with the original 2013 performances re-released alongside recordings of the other 27 made between the end of 2017 and the beginning of this year. Continue reading… […]

Home listening: reimagining Mozart’s operatic career

by Nicholas Kenyon on 1st September 2019 at 7:00 am Raphaël Pichon weaves a postmodern tapestry, and Iestyn Davies teams up with James Hall• Even great composers go through tricky patches. In the period before the great trilogy of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosí, Mozart became stuck on several projects that remained unfinished but contain some superb surviving music. His incomplete operas L’oca del Cairo and Lo sposo deluso have now been woven into a sort of postmodern tapestry in three scenes by the ingenious Raphaël Pichon with his ensemble Pygmalion on Libertà! (Harmonia Mundi). Magpie-like, Pichon also draws on Mozart’s contemporaries in Vienna, Paisiello, Martín y Soler (the piece that’s quoted in Don Giovanni’s final supper) and Salieri (a comic ensemble that’s a winner). Each tableau starts with a strong overture, the last being a fizzing account of Der Schauspieldirektor, and two finish with calm nocturnes. There’s room for concert arias at which the French soprano Sabine Devieilhe excels, arrangements of domestic canons, and while the logic of the whole may not be purist, it’s totally ingenious and brilliantly delivered.• The present generation of countertenors is outstanding, and on a new collection called Elegy (Vivat), Iestyn Davies and newcomer James Hall partner in famous duets by Purcell and John Blow. Worthy successors to James Bowman and Michael Chance, who also recorded these duets with the King’s Consort, Davies and Hall bring a chamber-music intensity to Blow’s sublime elegy on Purcell’s death, though nothing on the disc quite beats the spine-tingling last bars of Purcell’s duet O dive custos. Davies adds some solos, but though we’re told who plays which recorder, it is oddly not revealed exactly who sings what. Continue reading… […]

Taxi Wars: Artificial Horizon review – intelligent jazz from dEUS frontman

by Neil Spencer on 1st September 2019 at 7:00 am (Sdban Ultra)The re-embrace of jazz in recent years has come from both mainstream acts such as Kendrick Lamar and young outsiders like Britain’s Shabaka Hutchings. More surprising is Tom Barman, frontman of Belgian artrockers dEUS, forming a jazz quartet with a trio of fellow countrymen. Barman’s move is not that startling – the singer is a long-time, self-proclaimed fan who has overseen compilations for the Blue Note and Impulse labels – but Taxi Wars is a very different beast to dEUS: a cooking, post-bop quartet led by tenor sax Robin Verheyen allied to Barman’s songwriting.This second album follows on seamlessly from 2016’s Fever, mixing deep grooves and hip-hop vocals on Drop Shot and The Glare (the latter opening with an exposition on ancient Greek goddesses) with slower, ruminative pieces like Irritated Love, an elegant dissection of a troubled affair, with echoes of Chet Baker. There’s plenty of hard-blowing from Verheyen (like the rhythm section, New York-based), but the numbers are clipped – the slinky title track is not even two and a half minutes – while in performance, Barman shows he’s not lost his frontman tropes. Intelligent, accomplished and unpretentious; a welcome addition to the party. Continue reading… […]

The Futureheads: Powers review – a welcome return

by Phil Mongredien on 1st September 2019 at 7:00 am (Nul)A ceaselessly innovative mix of post-punk dynamics, melodic nous and intricate four-part harmonies always set the Futureheads apart from their 00s indie peers. Indeed, there’s an argument that had they come from Brooklyn instead of Sunderland they could have been huge. As it was, when they went on hiatus after 2012’s entirely a cappella set Rant, it caused barely a stir. Frontman Barry Hyde broke cover in 2016 to release an emotionally raw solo album that chronicled his struggle with mental illness, but Powers is the first album the four-piece have made together in seven years. Pleasingly, they’ve managed to recapture what made them so special first time around: the likes of the standout Good Night Out and Headcase would have fitted seamlessly on 2010’s The Chaos.As ever, there is joy to be found in the sheer inventiveness of the twisting, turning arrangements and their Buzzcocks-worthy choruses. But this isn’t simply an exercise in nostalgia. The furious, pro-Europe Across the Border appears to be explicitly railing against lazy criticism of their hometown’s vote to leave the EU: “Where were you when it all fell apart? What did you do to stop it happening?” While there’s nothing here that quite matches the highest highs of their first pass, this is a welcome return for a singular and important band. Continue reading… […]

Black Belt Eagle Scout: At the Party with My Brown Friends review – atmospheric indie rock

by Emily Mackay on 1st September 2019 at 7:00 am (Saddle Creek)It takes a lot to still a brain these ever-busier days, but Oregon-based singer-songwriter Katherine Paul is mistress of the arresting atmosphere. Lusher and richer than 2018’s Mother of My Children, this second album, on which she plays every instrument, billows like mountain mists. The songs focus on an intimate inner circle: friends on Going to the Beach with Haley, with its mellow drum machine and soft arpeggios; her mother on You’re Me and I’m You. Lovers become everyday idols of her quiet wonder in Real Lovin, in which ragged strums and swelling organ build to euphoric release, and in the lovestruck murmurs of Half Colored Hair.Paul’s soft voice, washed by reverb, recalls the dreamscapes of Beach House, and there are reminders of Sharon Van Etten in the enveloping swells of drums, grungy guitars and spacey shifts of rhythm. But Paul comes at US indie rock from a different angle; raised on Washington’s Swinomish reservation, she uses gigs, fanzines and festivals to spread the history of native peoples (her debut was written as family protested at Standing Rock). The uniqueness of her voice, though, stems not just from her origins, but her uncanny ability to capture the heart. Continue reading… […]

Kano: Hoodies All Summer review – grime elder statesman back with force

by Kitty Empire on 1st September 2019 at 7:00 am (Parlophone)Anyone doubting grime’s assurance as an art form needs to watch the engrossing short film that accompanies two tracks from Kano’s comeback album, three years on from his Mercury-nominated, Mobo-winning Made in the Manor. Trouble is a deceptively nostalgic tune about living in an everyday war zone that samples the late campaigner Darcus Howe, while Class of Deja finds Kano going head-to-head with veteran MCs D Double E and Ghetts in a furious old-skool back-and-forth that is testament to how thrilling a lyricist this 34-year-old can still be.You might argue that grime’s tinny immediacy is blunted by maturity and high production values, but Kano’s state-of-the-nation address is both lush and desolate. That such a subtle operator should occasionally reach for the pianos during emotional interludes is slightly regrettable. But overall this excellent album’s clarion-clear narratives about knife crime and the importance of good times – exemplified on Can’t Hold We Down – are delivered not just with anger and pathos, but humour. SYM is a killer closer that finds a gospel choir intoning “Suck your mum” as Kano tenderly croons “Suck your mother if you think these niggas love these cuffs and riots.” Continue reading… […]

Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell review – stops you in your tracks

by Kitty Empire on 31st August 2019 at 1:00 pm (Polydor)With its classic rock references and brazen lyrics, the American’s involving fifth album proves she can do more than merely conjure up a moodIt was probably inevitable that Lana Del Rey would one day write a song called California. Having often set her tunes in specific locales – Brooklyn Baby, West Coast and Venice Bitch are just three previous stops on the open-top Del Rey bus tour – it comes as little surprise that at the heart of Norman Fucking Rockwell, the fifth of her acknowledged studio albums, Del Rey should be throwing a party for some hot guy, if he’s ever in California again. “Crazy love,” muses Del Rey, audibly shaking her head at the memory, yet nursing some unspecified guilt.What’s odd, however, is that while California is technically one of the strongest songs (there are actual beats; it’s about something tangible) it’s also one of the least interesting tracks on this unorthodox, involving album, named after a devotee of lived American iconography, the 20th-century illustrator Norman Rockwell. Rarely has the offer of a party, with “your favourite alcohol off the top shelf”, seemed so unenticing, compared with everything else that’s going on here. Continue reading… […]

Kano: Hoodies All Summer review – London’s grime guru gets soulful

by Al Horner on 30th August 2019 at 9:30 am (Parlophone)The veteran MC reveals his pensive side on a brooding sixth album that skilfully fuses the sombre and the uplifting‘Every day get new drama, something’s gone down,” despairs Kano on Hoodies All Summer, his voice weary with worry that the status quo might never change. The East Ham MC, who has been a cult grime hero for 15 years now, having announced himself to the underground with debut single P’s & Q’s in 2004 , embraces his elder statesman status on this sixth album, cutting a caring big brother figure over soulful melodies. “Any beef can be squashed if hands can be shaken, any hand can be shaken when the blood dries – I guess that’s not a thug line,” the 34-year-old raps on piano hymnal Trouble, setting the blueprint for an album that shows understanding of the forces that drive young men to violence, but pleads with them to find another path. “Another funeral, another rest-in-peace, another judge gives out 20, welcome to my city,” he cries on Good Youtes Walk Amongst Evil, as sombre synths echo in the backdrop. Continue reading… […]

Ezra Furman: Twelve Nudes review – an electrifying roar of hopelessness and rage

by Michael Hann on 30th August 2019 at 9:00 am (Bella Union)Furman continues to renege on his retirement with a gloriously angry punk album that takes aim at his broken homelandWhen Ezra Furman released Day of the Dog in 2013, it was a last throw of the dice before giving up music. The ecstatic reaction to that album didn’t just convince him to continue, it stoked his ambition on the two albums that followed, Perpetual Motion People and Transangelic Exodus, the latter of which was as confounding as it was brilliant. Twelve Nudes, which is almost entirely a punk rock album (only I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend harks back to doo-wop and rock’n’roll), might sound like a step back, but really it is tightly focused on one aspect of his writing: despair. Continue reading… […]

Sheryl Crow: Threads review – Americana-pop queen stitches genre-hop farewell

by Michael Cragg on 30th August 2019 at 8:30 am (Big Machine)Big-name guests abound in a valedictory 11th album that offers a fitting reminder of Crow’s melancholy magicWith her 11th and reportedly final album, Sheryl Crow undertakes a confident albeit meandering victory lap. Across 17 songs and 75 minutes of frayed Americana and back-porch country she collaborates with no fewer than 23 artists, each one representing either Crow’s musical idols turned friends (Keith Richards, Stevie Nicks) or new-ish musicians she sees as the future (St Vincent, Maren Morris). Most of the 12 originals, four covers and one reworking of her own anti-war anthem Redemption Day loosely fall under the umbrella of protest songs, with the Chuck D-assisted Story of Everything touching on political idiocy, while opener Prove You Wrong tackles sexism and, as she recently told the LA Times, the sentiment of: “if anyone thinks that I can’t, let me just show you that I can.” Continue reading… […]


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