A dreamy, bucolic ambient LP, full of lush textures and birdsong, along with a number of other pleasant surprises.
• The fire that ravaged the first Covent Garden theatre in 1808 destroyed more than an auditorium; it claimed much of Britain’s 18th-century musical heritage, including a pipe organ Handel had played, and many full scores. Thomas Arne’s opera Artaxerxes and his masque of 1742, The Judgment of Paris, were victims of the flames, but fortunately parts of the masque had been published, and Congreve’s text still existed, so in the 1970s editor Ian Spink was able to rebuild its recitatives and choruses. Now, 40 years later, this charming piece is available in a world premiere recording from the Dutton label that features a first-rate lineup of soloists.
Tenor Ed Lyon sings Paris, the shepherd charged with the decidedly un-PC task of choosing which goddess is the sexiest. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it; no wonder he sings “Save me from Excess of Joy”. Sopranos Mary Bevan, Susanna Fairbairn and Gillian Ramm as, respectively, Venus, Pallas and Juno, vie with each other for the prize, with tenor Anthony Gregory as Mercury, Jove’s messenger. It’s all sung with a suitable lightness of touch, with sparkling accompaniment from the Brook Street Band, all artfully directed by John Andrews.Continue reading...
When the conversation turns to contemporary jazz pianists, the name of Fred Hersch is apt to be left out. Not because he’s unknown – far from it – but because his constant, undemonstrative presence is too often taken for granted. His best work has been as a soloist or with his piano trio, performing his own shapely, lyrical compositions. He is also a much-praised accompanist to singers. If all this seems a little bland, I suggest you listen to a track here, entitled Out Someplace, subtitled Blues for Matthew Shepard, in memory of a gay man murdered in Wyoming in 1998. A more angry and disturbing piece it’s difficult to imagine, made positively terrifying by the orchestration of Vince Mendoza.
Indeed all nine of Hersch’s compositions here, some already well known, gain in colour from Mendoza’s arrangements, not to mention the playing of the Cologne-based WDR band. The sheer brilliance of some European radio bands ensures a regular flow of top US musicians, eager to make use of their talents. The same was true of our own BBC Big Band, but things seem to have gone suspiciously quiet there lately.Continue reading...
“The panic room is now a nursery,” sings veteran leftfield tunesmith Bill Callahan on Son of the Sea. It’s just one instance of pregnant understatement on a 20-track album that ends this extraordinary American songwriter’s six years away from the release schedules. Life happened: marriage, a baby son, the death of his mother and now, a purple patch of tunes that combine the allusive rigour of his finest work with a looser, chatty style. “It’s nice to be writing again,” he offers on Writing. The Ballad of the Hulk, a meditation on anger, playfully details how Callahan “shared a tailor” with the superhero.Continue reading...
While Kate Tempest’s first two albums– 2014’s Everybody Down and 2016’s Let Them Eat Chaos - were each absorbing and impressive enough to be Mercury-nominated, there was a sense that at times their discordant post-dubstep soundscapes obscured the power of her lyrics. Her third finds Tempest hooking up with Rick Rubin, and the effect is revelatory. Rubin has largely excised the beats and prominent basslines that defined her earlier work, stripping back the songs to their bare bones. Instead, minor chords abound amid muted touches of piano and sombre strings (and, on I Trap You, what might as well be a field recording from an old-fashioned fairground). By the time, six songs in, Too Late turns out to be entirely spoken word, the absence of any backing barely registers.
She’s moved on lyrically too. Where she previously chronicled the hopes and fears of austerity Britain through the lives of various characters, The Book of Traps... is at once both more personal and more optimistic. She addresses the normally unspoken toxic relationship between love and power, most notably on I Trap You, and the shadow of Brexit looms large. And yet amid the bleakness there are regular countervailing flashes of positivity, never more so than on closer People’s Faces, which over five uplifting minutes takes us from lamenting that “my country’s coming apart” to the observation that “there is so much peace to be found in people’s faces”. It’s a touching end to an always thought-provoking record.Continue reading...
Couched in the orchestral “countrypolitan” style of George Jones and Glen Campbell at the tail-end of the 1960s, Springsteen’s first album in five years delivers a sound like little else in his extensive catalogue, brimming with lush strings and French horns. Its 13 songs, however, remain quintessentially Bruce, packed with lost highways, girls in parking lots, lonely towns and abandoned motels, with a cast of drifters, blue-collar heroes and bruised romantics.
If the songcraft is often inspired, the arrangements are erratic. Like 1982’s Nebraska on orchestral steroids, the booming strings are too grandiose for austere vignettes of a smashed-up stuntman or an over-the-hill actor reminiscing about “being shot by John Wayne” for a drink. A promising cello piece on Chasin’ Wild Horses soon dissolves into a retro Hollywood western score, while the faux Tex-Mex of Sleepy Joe’s Cafe is a misfit. Better are the more subtle touches, augmented by some lovely, plaintive pedal steel, on numbers like Somewhere North of Nashville and Hello Sunshine. Springsteen sings brilliantly throughout, gritty on Hitch Hikin’, Orbison-operatic on the more elaborate pieces, and though the high notes can prove elusive, he retains the cadence of a born narrator. Brave and intriguing.Continue reading...
O2 Academy Brixton, London
The second coming of Bikini Kill is a gloriously urgent call to arms from a band that have lost none of their visceral power
In their heyday, Bikini Kill – reunited and on stage in the UK after 23 years – were more than just a punk band. They proposed nothing less than “revolution, girl-style, now”. They stared down misogyny with playground taunts and believed in creating an alternative to mainstream culture (and “alternative” music, for that matter) by foregrounding participation, not virtuosity.
But Bikini Kill rocked, too, making for a tight four-piece, reminiscent of Washington DC hardcore legends Minor Threat fronted by Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex: loud and fast, sarcastic and confrontational, equal parts burning sincerity and goofy charm. The first of two nights in this large south London venue, bigger than any they ever played in their first incarnation, retains all those hallmarks. Hanging like a miasma over the simple stage – there are lights, and that’s it – is the weight of expectation of a generation of fans too young to have seen their heroes the first time.
Twenty years on, their outpourings of frustration, pain and challenge have not mellowedContinue reading...
The Philadephia-based quartet have put their travails behind them and found a new sense of purpose on this more psychedelic fifth album
Baroness have certainly paid their dues. A bad 2012 bus crash, resulting in traumatic injuries and the departure of three members, played havoc with the remaining lineup’s mental health and threatened to derail a promising career. On their fifth album, though, they sound like a band who aren’t just determined to make up for lost time, but who have realised what is important and want to make the best possible statement they can.Continue reading...
Bill Callahan: Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest review – brilliantly sly celebration of family and the infinite
Humour and subtly shattering insights into a new life as a parent add profundity to Callahan’s expansive album
Online, the “wife guy” gets a bad rap – he is “worthy of suspicion because he appears to be using his devotion to his wife for personal gain”, as the New York Times put it. So Bill Callahan’s latest may arouse suspicion – 20 songs from his perspective as a new husband and father. But despite brilliantly sly lines like, “I got the woman of my dreams / And an imitation Eames” (What Comes After Certainty), Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest is neither uxorious nor queasy.Continue reading...
Producer Rick Rubin has pared back the effects, giving Tempest’s songs about trying to love and dance through our current crises room to reach out
Kate Tempest’s latest record finds beauty amidst breakdown. The spoken word poet – whose last album, 2016’s Let Them Eat Chaos, was nominated for the Mercury prize – is known for her chest-thumping, rousing statements. But on The Book of Traps and Lessons, she takes a macro view of people (in one breath-catching moment she counts: “7.2 billion humans … 7.3 billion humans …”, and on), before zooming right in to the smallest of intimacies. On Three Sided Coin, she captures the current turbulence of the UK, a nation living “in the mouth of a breaking storm”; and then, quickly, the track unspools into the softer-edged I Trap You, a meditation on a broken-down relationship.Continue reading...
Using no more than three instruments on each track especially the yanggeum, Jiha’s music expresses as much emotion as words could convey
Park Jiha trained in classical Korean instrumentation and has been a key figure, along with bands such as Jambinai, in firmly pushing forward the lineage of “traditional” Korean music. Where her debut, 2018’s Communion, was a group effort, interweaving traditional Korean instruments – the reed wind piri and gargantuan saenghwang – with saxophone and bass clarinet, Philos is a far more isolated affair.
Here, her vision finds its clearest expression – featuring just four instruments, or five if you also count the voice of poet Dima El Sayed reading her piece Easy on a song of the same name. As the album’s sole player, Jiha transcends the sum of her tools’ parts to create a deceptively enveloping soundscape that evolves from soft, ambient warmth and playful melody to brittle, bone-rattling tension – textures so uncannily rendered that they almost sound programmed by computer.Continue reading...
Howells: An English Mass; Cello Concerto; Te Deum etc review – Cleobury's distinctive final offering
King’s College Choir/Johnston/Britten Sinfonia/Cleobury/Seaman
(King’s College, Cambridge, two CDs)
The famed music director celebrates his retirement with a fine selection of music by Herbert Howells
At the end of September, Stephen Cleobury will retire as director of music at King’s College, Cambridge. He’s been in charge of Britain’s best-known choir for 37 years, and among his many innovations there has been the creation of the choir’s own recording label, five years ago. The final release before his departure is this double album of music by Herbert Howells, an appropriate choice as Cleobury has recently become president of the Herbert Howells Society.Continue reading...
Lees de bespreking
Lees de bespreking
Lees de bespreking
Lees de bespreking
The Northern Irish trio have embraced electronic pop, but they fail to give their strong hooks any personality
Does 2019 offer a more baffling musical phenomenon than the continued success of what you might call second-wave noughties indie? Not the bands that erupted into the public consciousness at the start of the decade, with their huge hit singles and era-defining albums and identifiable images eagerly co-opted by fans – Coldplay, the Killers, the Libertines et al – but the ones who came five years later, damned as “landfill indie”, so nondescript you imagined them convening for rehearsals and peering puzzled at their band-mates: “Sorry, do I know you?”Continue reading...
A peerless storyteller gazes deep into domestic life and offers a long, sun-warmed double album that is a highlight of his career.
The Danish producer’s latest is a blissful mini-suite
This hoard of material from the OK Computer era is an endlessly interesting chronicle of a band reinventing the mainstream by rejecting it
‘Not v interesting” is Thom Yorke’s assessment of the 16-odd hours of unheard Radiohead music, recorded between 1995 and 1998, that the band have just shared online. Jonny Greenwood was marginally more effusive: “Only tangentially interesting. And very very long.” You get the sense that their hand was forced by a hacker who was hoping to charge $150,000 for the recordings, which were subsequently leaked; the band are now selling them and giving the proceeds to environmental campaigners Extinction Rebellion.
Yorke and Greenwood are absolutely wrong though. This is the holy grail – or perhaps Ark of the Covenant – for hardcore Radiohead disciples, and even has merit for less nerdish fans. It reveals the inner workings of what is regarded by many as the greatest album of the 1990s, showing how they walked alongside and then turned away from the brash Britpop that surrounded them. Here are some of the songs to look out for.Continue reading...