The Australian-Zimbabwean’s third offering hits the sweet spot between hip-hop and breezy pop
Not so long ago, outside of Oz itself, you might have thought “Australian hip-hop” and pictured Iggy Azalea whipping her blond ponytail. But down under, things have evolved. First Sampa the Great and now Tkay Maidza (“tee-kay my-dzuh”) are singer/rappers making bids for international recognition. Aussie-Zimbabwean Maidza has been releasing music since 2013: Killer Mike guested on her 2017 debut album, Tkay, which had shades of Lorde and MIA. Then came the first volume of Last Year Was Weird, a smattering of trap-R&B that, like early Little Simz, was concerned with growing up and wanting to be taken seriously.
Its follow-up, however, is a confident debut on UK indie label 4AD that hits the bullseye between contemporary hip-hop and easy-breezy catchy pop. The warm, Modjo-y house of 24k is as fresh as a poolside mojito; PB Jam has shades of the Internet’s louche funk; and Shook goes straight for the Lizzo-Missy Elliott jugular (it’s unsurprising to find that Maidza’s producer, Dan Farber, is behind their hit Tempo). Their musical mood board is overt, yet it all sounds as effortless as careening along the coastline, windows rolled down. There are some grittier moments – Awake with rap outsider Jpegmafia boasts taunting synths – but this EP is the triumphant sound of someone’s groove – click! – finally locking into place. If last year was weird, I can’t wait to hear what Maidza makes during this one.Continue reading...
Spare yet perfectly formed, these discarded demos from Welch and David Rawlings – with more to come – offer riches galore
Fans of Gillian Welch and her longtime foil David Rawlings’s reimagining of early country and bluegrass are used to being patient. Until a month ago, the pair had only released five albums proper under her name, and three in his, since Welch’s 1996 debut, Revival. But after their studio, with all their old recordings, was almost destroyed by a tornado in March, they’ve changed tack. Hot on the heels of July’s covers album, All the Good Times Are Past and Gone, comes the follow-up to 2016’s first batch of archive recordings, The Official Revival Bootleg, with two more volumes promised for the coming months.
The 16 songs here (and the 32 more scheduled to appear imminently) were all recorded during one productive weekend in December 2002, but then discarded before the following year’s Soul Journey. Listening now, it’s hard to figure out why. Although they are demos, with little more in play than guitar and Welch’s voice, they sound fully realised. First Place Ribbon, about barefoot Kathy, “the kinda girl likes the dust between her toes”, rattles along with an irresistible momentum; the narrator of the brooding Shotgun Song fantasises about escaping the chain gang; Valley of Tears is as desolately beautiful as its name suggests. That Welch and Rawlings have sat on such inspired recordings for almost two decades makes you wonder what other hidden treasures might be forthcoming.Continue reading...
He’s a master of mood and melody, but a more pop-facing Ernest Greene needs to let rip a little
Craftsmanship can be underrated. We want musicians to be unfettered geniuses with lightning at their fingertips, not digital coalminers digging grimly for zeroes and ones. Ernest Greene’s Washed Out project was always painstakingly put together, with fuzzily tuneful gems like 2009’s Feel It All Around encouraging chillwave’s horizontal revolution. But it rarely felt crafted, because true craft always disguises itself as inspiration.
Over the years, Greene has tinkered gently with his formula, and this fourth album adds more radio-friendly arrangements on songs like Too Late and Time to Walk Away. Only the multilayered finale, Haunt, really tries something interesting. He remains a brilliant technician of mood and melody, but as he edges closer to pop, Greene’s vocal limitations are accentuated. You hear the artistry – what he’s doing, and what he’s trying to do – but his breathily inarticulate voice isn’t strong enough to carry you over the gap between the two.Continue reading...
The late trumpeter and friends simply dazzle in this immaculate, feel-good set
A welcome rediscovery from 1975, with a promisingly cheerful title. Barbados-born Harry Beckett (1935-2010) had one of the most beautiful trumpet tones I’ve ever heard. It was firm, but soft at the edges, with a chuckle lurking somewhere inside. Joy Unlimited isn’t typical of its time, or of anything except itself. All six tracks are Beckett compositions, tuneful, spirited and attractively arranged. His own solo playing is quite astonishing.
In the first piece he takes off at terrifying speed, hitting some high notes that may interest your dog. This is to make sure you’re paying attention. After this, the gorgeous sound, on both trumpet and flugelhorn, takes over, notably in Rings Within Rings. There’s one brief but enchanting slow piece – a duet with guitarist Ray Russell, Changes Are Still Happening – and a wonderfully rolling Caribbean-flavoured number, Glowing, featuring Brian Miller on keyboards.Continue reading...
Louise Alder excels in a vibrant live recording of Handel’s sparkling opera-oratorio; perfect poise from Hee-Young Lim; and Eva-Maria Westbroek in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
• Rampant with glorious music, licentious sexual adventure and gods and mortals behaving badly, Handel’s Semele has firmly established itself (after neglect) as a favourite. That renewal began in the second half of the last century. A notably memorable 1999 ENO staging (with Carolyn Sampson) later surfaced elsewhere, starring, among others, Cecilia Bartoli. In the British soprano Louise Alder we have a new and brilliant young Semele, who sang the role in a semi-staging at London’s Alexandra Palace in May 2019. That live performance – with the novelty of audience noise – is now out as a three-disc album on SDG, with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.Continue reading...
Trauma has triggered a more inward-looking exploration of the Oxford quartet’s grandstanding, hallucinogenic sound
Dave Bayley, frontman of Oxford psych-pop quartet Glass Animals, has always embraced the fantastical. The group’s debut set Lewis Carroll-worthy lyrics over R&B production, while their follow-up – 2016’s How to Be a Human Being, the album that turned them into Radio 1 stars and Mercury nominees – filtered other people’s life stories through Bayley’s technicolour imagination. But the very end of that record marked a shift, with the quiet ballad Agnes exploring his own experience of grief. Following that album, the band experienced a collective trauma when their drummer, Joe Seaward, suffered a near-fatal brain injury. As he began his long recovery, his bandmates started to dig deeper than ever before.Continue reading...
London Contemporary Orchestra
Scelsi, writing in the 1930s, influenced Ennio Morricone, using microtonal variations on a single note to make revelatory music
When I interviewed him in his Rome studio nearly 20 years ago, Ennio Morricone was generous in praise of his heroes, declaring his undying love for John Cage, Burt Bacharach and the AS Roma striker Francesco Totti. He also mentioned a more obscure idol: an Italian composer called Giacinto Scelsi. “I learned from him that a single note can be beautiful and shocking,” he told me. “And that, by repeating that note, in slightly different ways, you can do more than playing something complicated.”Continue reading...
Anxiety, escapism and noise complaints from neighbours all feature in the work musicians have created while house-boundContinue reading...
Phil Elverum resurrects his beloved Microphones alias for a 44-minute song about art-making, self-mythologizing, and the endless search for meaning.
Brailey/Burton/Experiential Chorus and Orchestra/Blachly
A long overdue first recording for this work by the one-time imprisoned suffragette, detailing the spiritual awakening of a condemned man
Ethel Smyth was unusual among composers in being able to write a work called The Prison from a position of experience, but her weeks in Holloway as a time-serving suffragette were long past by 1930, when, aged 72 and increasingly deaf, she finished this “symphony for soprano, bass-baritone, chorus and orchestra”. The words are by HB Brewster, who had been Smyth’s close friend and, perhaps, her lover; they take the form of a dialogue between an innocent prisoner awaiting execution and his soul, sung by a soprano, who is able to guide him towards spiritual peace.Continue reading...
This is no lunge for the mainstream from the Ariana Grande songwriter, but an assured, inventive exploration of autonomy
Traditionally, the jump from writers’ room to centre stage has been complicated. The likes of Sia and Pharrell have deftly glided from backroom hitmakers to pop behemoths. Others, such as Keri Hilson and Julia Michaels, have struggled to find their footing in the upper echelons of the charts where their songwriting credits so often appear, instead forging fruitful careers as pop underdogs. Nine years into his career as a solo artist, the UK’s MNEK finally scored his first No 1 last week.Continue reading...
(Brand Nu, Inc)
The familiar acrobatic vocals and sublime harmonies are there, but the R&B star’s first album in eight years is not all about nostalgia…
It’s been eight years since Brandy’s last album – forgivable for someone who’s “been an original since 1994”, as she boasts on I Am More on this new one. The R&B singer is such an icon that when you google the phrase “the vocal bible” her picture comes up, all thanks to the supremacy and range of her voice.
B7 isn’t exclusively a trip down memory lane, but it does cruise past a few old haunts. Brandy’s trademark raspy vocals and sublime harmonies on Rather Be and Lucid Dreams are nostalgia-inducing for anyone who grew up listening to her acrobatic riffs and runs. Baby Mama featuring Chance the Rapper is a rhapsody to her 18-year old daughter and an anthem for single mothers. “I’m every woman,” she sings, evoking Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston.Continue reading...
The Canadian singer-songwriter’s first album in eight years returns to her strengths
Not many artists live in the shadow of an earlier album to the extent that Alanis Morissette does with 1995’s 33m-selling Jagged Little Pill. It’s certainly telling that the coronavirus-scuppered live dates that had been booked for this year were being touted as that record’s 25th anniversary tour, her first album in eight years seemingly not worthy of promotion. And yet Such Pretty Forks in the Road doesn’t deserve to have been so completely glossed over.
Yes, musically, these songs – all co-written with former Morrissey sideman Michael Farrell –are for the most part her stock-in-trade windswept power ballads and unremarkable soft rock. But while there’s nothing as thrillingly angry as You Oughta Know, it’s a far more palatable set than 2012’s insipid Havoc and Bright Lights. That’s in part because while that album was so full of psychobabbling, spiritual guff it could have made Gwyneth Paltrow choke on her vagina-scented candles, this time around Morissette has returned to the confessional writing style that defined her earlier work. The dramatic Reasons I Drink is as direct as its title, fearlessly tackling alcohol problems and eating disorders. It’s just unfortunate that it has little regard for scansion, syntax or sense. Indeed, her lyrics have long been an achilles heel, and when she sings: “I can’t remember where the sentence started when I’m trying to finish it,” you wonder whether she’s poking fun at herself. On reflection, probably not.Continue reading...
Paul Lewis delights in Beethoven’s bagatelles. Plus, a reconfigured Media vita and sacred music from Armenia
• Suffering from Beethoven anniversary fatigue? The British pianist Paul Lewis has the ideal tonic. His album Für Elise: Bagatelles, Opp 33, 119 & 126 (Harmonia Mundi) brings together the three sets of bagatelles, written across Beethoven’s career. These punchy, gleaming miniatures, hardly unknown – some are popular with amateur players – tend to be overshadowed by the towering piano sonatas, in themselves a lifetime’s listening (as Lewis’s own account has shown).
Beethoven referred to the bagatelles as “trifles”, defining their one-movement structure, rather than their musical insignificance: aural sonnets, though without the strict form that comparison might suggest. Each is a model of compression, one lasting a matter of seconds, others barely half a minute. Combining expressive variety and technical ease, Lewis delights in the wit too. Even Für Elise, beaten to death by every would-be and would-not-be learner, becomes tolerable in his hands.Continue reading...
Fike’s star is in the ascendant, thanks to a guileless, summery blend of rap, rock and pop
Few young artists can boast of sparking a label bidding war after releasing their debut EP through Soundcloud, or list the likes of Brockhampton, Billie Eilish and DJ Khaled as fans. Yet Dominic Fike’s beachy, lo-fi blend of rap and soft rock made him an instant star, with his debut single, 3 Nights, going platinum in the US and the UK.Continue reading...
(Nyege Nyege Tapes)
From Nairobi’s metal scene, Martin Kanja and Sam Karugu add techno to doom-laden guitars and distorted vocals on this exciting album
Alongside the burgeoning experimental electronic scene in east Africa is a small but committed underground of metal bands, based in Nairobi. These groups are breathing life into a field hampered by a continued lack of diversity and the preponderance of racist imagery.
Duma is released on Nyege Nyege Tapes on 7 August.Continue reading...
Rachmaninov: Preludes, Études-Tableaux, Moments musicaux review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
Babayan’s affinity with Rachmaninov is evident, though his personality shows most in the more substantial pieces
The Armenian-American pianist Sergei Babayan makes his solo debut on Deutsche Grammophon with this Rachmaninov recital. Born in 1961, he’s hardly a newcomer – he’s made a few appearances in the UK, including at the Proms in 2015, when he was one of the soloists in a marathon concert that included all five of Prokofiev’s piano concertos, and at the Wigmore Hall for a two-piano recital with Daniil Trifonov, who studied with Babayan for six years at the Cleveland Institute of Music in Ohio.
It’s that connection with the dazzling Trifonov, I suspect, that has encouraged DG to sign up Babayan. Two years ago, he partnered no less than Martha Argerich on a disc of Prokofiev transcriptions for two pianos, but what’s curious about this first solo effort is that the performances date back to 2009, yet apparently have never been issued anywhere before.Continue reading...
The Dublin band deliver a difficult but powerful second album full of songwriting that stares life in the face
Do bands have a “difficult second album” or a “difficult third album”? The myth seems to vary. You could argue it’s the fourth or fifth you’ve got to worry about in our attention-deficit culture. Maybe they’re all difficult right now: impossible to tour, marketed in disappearing magazines, played to a world deafened by anger.
Whatever way you look at it, the second album from Dublin band Fontaines DC is full of difficulties. This may be surprising. The songs on their 2019 debut Dogrel were populated by characters as vivid as those on the Arctic Monkeys’ debut, and were so good that they reset the bar for mainstream indie-rock bands. The quintet ran up the stairs of a career two at a time, quickly playing pubs, clubs then theatres; London’s vast Alexandra Palace awaits them in 2021. Dogrel was nominated for the Mercury prize, and its songs were improbably added to Radio 1’s poppy playlist. They recorded A Hero’s Death in LA.Continue reading...
The young Londoner’s hypnotic bedroom rap both wrongfoots and charms
Self-taught musician Jimothy Lacoste makes bedroom pop that could be Flight of the Conchords satirising the Streets. Quirky and witty, he raps with a studied precision about girls, money and clothes (all good) and drugs (not good). This remarkable debut often sounds like Jimothy loves everything about hip-hop except its music and culture. This is confusing, and some will dismiss him as a middle-class ironist cosplaying a rapper. His intentions would matter less if he wasn’t so prodigiously talented.
The 21-year-old Londoner’s deadpan delivery is disarmingly simple, as is his relentless repetition of addictive loops, riffs and melodies, narcotic in their effect. During four years of dropping tracks, Lacoste’s singular style has never changed, but its execution has improved. Getting Remedy is a brutally funky 80s banger, Getting Molly a beautiful evocation of drug comedowns, a regretful drawl from under the duvet.Continue reading...
The Canadian producer takes a wicked turn in her deliciously offbeat third album
Should you ever find yourself pondering what sort of music ghosts play in the wine bars of the underworld, fret not, for Canadian producer Jessy Lanza has been answering your question since 2013. Her first two albums, Pull My Hair Back and 2016’s Oh No, perfected a witching-hours R&B haunted by a rich range of past styles, otherworldly alt-R&B rubbing up against lean club music and Lanza’s playful, gossamer falsetto in spare but compulsive spectral slow jams.
Her third album stays close to the formula, though with a slightly darker, starker turn: opener Anyone Around brings together a tight, crisp beat with dubby reverb, hazy, squidgy vintage keys and the sort of cheesy come-on line Lanza does so well: “I never behave when I’m around so close to you.” Face has the nervy tempo of footwork or garage, its seesawing vocal refrain giving it an unnerving bite, while Badly nails a uncanny pirate radio 4am feel, its slinky spareness blossoming into something deliciously just a little off-kilter. None of this is particularly radical in a post-everything musical landscape, but Lanza and her production and writing partner, Jeremy Greenspan of the underrated Junior Boys, do it particularly well, bringing a little of the afterlife’s rewards to the everyday.Continue reading...