Wed 9 Jun 2021 10.35 GMT There’s a very striking line midway through the fourth track on Wolf Alice’s third album, a pointed burst of righteous anger called Smile: “I am what I am and I’m good at it,” shouts Ellie Rowsell, “and you don’t like me, well that isn’t fucking relevant.” This is swaggering stuff, particularly from someone whose public image, as Smile points out, is that of a sensitive artist, a wary interviewee.Then again, perhaps Wolf Alice have the right to swagger.Two Top 5 albums, a Mercury prize and a Grammy nomination into their career, they have come a long way in a climate where what would once have been called “indie” music is supposed to struggle.On the face of it, they seem like a very 2020s kind of band, built for a pop world in which relatability and mild aspiration is more important than glamour and the selling of dreams.
For all the attention from Vogue – “Here’s How An It Brit Does Glastonbury Style” – Rowsell seems noticeably more “older sister’s famously cool mate” than “rock star blessed with otherworldly charisma”.Her lyrics tend to deal in the everyday frustrations of twentysomething life; whether in character or not, it comes as a mild shock to hear her singing about accepting any drugs she’s offered in Los Angeles on Blue Weekend’s Delicious Things.Nor are they a band who have bought into time-honoured rock mythology suggesting a life more glamorous, weird, transgressive and exciting than your own.The 2017 tour documentary On the Road made being in Wolf Alice look like a job, a monotonous, gruelling round of faintly underwhelming experiences that director Michael Winterbottom compared to “a horrific form of camping”.
Equally, their most obvious musical references points – shoegazing and grunge, a touch of Elastica about their punkier moments – largely date from the early 90s.Their influences are deftly applied, but audible enough to attract an audience who recall this stuff first time around.There’s something there for the 16-year-olds and the BBC Radio 6 Music listeners who remember when the O2 Forum was called the Town and Country Club.It’s a recipe for a certain level of success, but Blue Weekend is fairly obviously a lunge for something bigger.
The producer’s chair is occupied by Markus Dravs, whose CV – Coldplay, Arcade Fire, Florence + the Machine – suggests that he’s very much the kind of guy you phone if you find your ambitions extending a little further than your present status.It’s a move compounded by circumstance: trapped in a residential recording studio by the Covid pandemic, the band opted to spend their time polishing an album they had previously thought was virtually finished.The move for something bigger can be the moment when artists falter, where a glaring discrepancy between ambition and ability is revealed, or a desire to perform on a bigger stage swamps the essence of what made people like you in the first place.But, as it turns out, boldness suits Wolf Alice better than you might expect.
Listening to Blue Weekend, you’re struck by an appealing sense of everything clicking into place.The sound is more polished and widescreen – the heave and echo of the effects-laden guitars on Feeling Myself conjure an alternative universe in which Slowdive had played stadiums; the punky blast of Play the Greatest Hits thunders along; The Last Man on Earth swells from piano ballad into something epic – but the songs are strong enough to support it, better written than anything on Wolf Alice’s previous albums.Never hollow, the choruses soar, as on Delicious Things and How Can I Make It OK?; the words are sharp and occasionally witty: “He’s had so many lovers / But he’s not pleasing anyone,” Rowsell sings on the narcotic Feeling Myself.Related: Why bands are disappearing: ‘Young people aren’t excited by them’ Even the acoustic, ostensibly lightweight Safe from Heartbreak (If You Never Fall in Love) packs an Abba-esque lilt to its melody and harmonised vocals.
Despite the litany of late-20s worries in the lyrics – friendships floundering as priorities shift (The Beach); the continued allure of hedonism battling the sneaking suspicion it’s not providing the escape it once did (Delicious Things); the desire to keep romantic relationships going despite their evident failings (“I take you back, I know it seems surprising,” shrugs Lipstick on the Glass) – Rowsell’s vocals feel assured, confidently shifting from whispered intimacy to full-throated, arena-rousing, yowling anger, to cut-glass iciness.Without wishing to heap on unreasonable expectations, it has the distinct tang of an album that could be huge.There’s something undeniable about it, the beguiling sound of a band doing what they do exceptionally well, so that even the most devoted naysayer might be forced to understand its success.The kind of swagger you hear in the lyrics of Smile – and indeed throughout Blue Weekend – seems more understandable than ever.
Alexis Petridis Listen on: Read more Close Here’s the album that shows just why the nondescript term “drummer” doesn’t get near the chemistry of earworm hooks, sharp-end jazz innovation and global-musical openness of New York percussionist/composer Ches Smith.With saxophonist Tim Berne (a big compositional influence), John Zorn, violist Mat Maneri and many others, Smith has blossomed from skilful sideman to the collaborative original behind this exhilarating set – drawing on his devoted study of Haiti’s Vodou musical traditions with New York’s Haitian-American community, and in empathic hybrid lineups joining Haitian performers and jazz-rooted improvisers.A 2015 quartet version of this venture is included in a brimming package, but 2020’s We All Break octet is the main attraction – a lineup including the evocative vibrato of vocalist Sirene Dantor Rene, three master hand drummers (including Smith’s Haitian teacher Daniel Brevil, whose originals form much of the repertoire), dynamic young double bass newcomer Nick Dunston, and scintillating jazz interventions from the fiery Miguel Zenón and Matt Mitchell on alto sax and piano respectively.Sometimes the jazz players quietly shadow the songs, as Mitchell and Smith do around Sirene Dantor Rene’s gracefully tender unfolding of the opener, Woule Pou Mwen.Vocal exchanges between solo singers and chorus clamour over coolly elastic drum grooves on Here’s the Light, before switching to blazing Zenón sax breaks; Mitchell’s teeming free-piano improv uncannily mirrors the drummers’ wilful groove-bends all over the set, while sinister piano vamps drive angular, staccato horn melodies right out of the Tim Berne guidebook into anguished free-sax squeals on the hypnotic Women of Iron.Smith wanted the resources of traditional vocalists, highly melodic drummers and melody-instrument jazz improvisers to become spontaneously inseparable on this long-honed adventure.We All Break have made a tour de force of it.John Fordham The backstory of Annie Clark’s sixth album as St Vincent already feels well-worn.
We live in an age of prurient interest in – and boundless opinion-giving about – celebrities’ personal lives: announcing that the title of Daddy’s Home referred to her father’s release from prison after a 10-year stretch for stock manipulation was bound to have an overshadowing effect.Only the title track concerns her father’s imprisonment and release, although his presence lurks over the album in more subtle ways.Its sound was apparently inspired by his record collection, which evidently majored in the early 70s.
The whole album is liberally dressed with a synthesised sitar sound that cropped up on dozens of the era’s soul singles, from Freda Payne’s Band of Gold to the Stylistics’ You Are Everything.
There are dabblings in the fingerpicked acoustic style of the era’s confessional singer-songwriters, the mock-showtune stylings of Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman and the electric piano-driven funk of Donny Hathaway or Stevie Wonder.Anyone with a passing acquaintance with Pink Floyd’s most successful album can’t fail to notice the influence of its more languid moments on Live in the Dream, which comes complete with the none-more-Floydian lyric, “Welcome child, you’re free of the cage / Trying to seem sane makes you seem so strange”.But these don’t sound like lovingly crafted homages to the past.They seem more like parodies, of varying degrees of knowing grotesqueness.So Live in the Dream starts off not unlike Pink Floyd’s Us and Them, but gradually becomes more discordant and ramshackle: the squeak of fingers on guitar strings is louder than the actual guitar, the massed backing vocals clash with Clark’s voice and the sound of the track surges in a way that doesn’t sound stirring so much as sickly.The acoustic guitar figure of Somebody Like Me is pushed along a little too urgently by the tempo of the drums – it feels discomfiting, rather than warm and earthy – synthesiser tones wail, strings weave in and out of the mix.
And, on the title track, the electric piano and syncopated drums sound gloopy and disconnected – funk you couldn’t possibly dance to – while the song’s theatrical affectations feel wilfully overblown and cartoonish: cooing the track’s title, the backing vocals have an eerie, mocking tone to them.It’s all hugely impressive and striking, the familiar made subtly unfamiliar, Clark’s famously incendiary guitar playing spinning off at unexpected and occasionally atonal tangents, its effect simultaneously heady and disturbing.The implication seems to be that if Clark has been rifling through her father’s albums, they don’t sound the same to her as they once did: for whatever reason, the contents of his collection have taken on a warped, twisted quality.
The lyrics sound similarly unsettled, about everything from the prospect of parenthood – My Baby Wants a Baby wittily reworks the chorus of 9 to 5, Sheena Easton’s unironic 1980 paean to the pleasures of housewifery, slowing it to an agonised crawl in order to wrestle with the proverbial pram in the hall – to the very business of being St Vincent.For a decade now, Clark has invented a persona to inhabit on each new album: the “near-future cult leader” seated on a throne on the cover of 2014’s St Vincent, a latex-clad “dominatrix at a mental institution” for 2017’s Masseduction.There’s another on the cover of Daddy’s Home, in a blonde wig and stockings, the “benzo beauty queen” mentioned in the lyrics, who exudes such sleazy energy that, on opener Pay Your Way in Pain, parents feel impelled to shield their children from her (“the mothers saw my heels and they said I wasn’t welcome”).
Related: St Vincent: ‘I’d been feral for so long.
I was sort of in outer space’ But elsewhere, Clark seems conflicted about the whole business of playing with identity, flipping between songs projecting a character and songs that are clearly personal: not just the title track, but The Laughing Man’s eulogy for a late friend.
On The Melting of the Sun, she lists a succession of soul-baring singer-songwriters and some of their most personal work – Tori Amos’s harrowing depiction of her rape, Me and a Gun; Nina Simone’s livid Mississippi Goddam; Joni Mitchell’s self-baiting exploration of musical “authenticity” Furry Sings the Blues – and finds herself wanting in their company: “Who am I trying to be? … I never cried / To tell the truth, I lied”.Perhaps her confusion is linked to the fact that constructing a persona is what her father seems to have done: “You swore you had paid your dues then put a payday in your uniform,” she sings on the title track.Or perhaps the album’s fixation with the early 70s, a high-water mark era for pop stars gleefully reinventing themselves, cast a troubling shadow over the whole enterprise.David Bowie, Alice Cooper and Elton John are justly revered artists, but they’re also cautionary tales about the dangers of playing with identity: one of the reasons they ended up in deep trouble was an inability to square their real lives with the images they projected.Whatever her reasons, the sound of Clark’s confusion, and its wilfully warped musical backing, is significantly more gripping than the gossip.
With a booming population that is overwhelmingly young, it’s only a matter of time before west Africa produces a global pop star as universally renowned as Beyoncé or Prince.When that happens, she or he will owe a big debt to Benin’s Angélique Kidjo who, now aged 60, has been a trailblazer for the continent over the course of 14 albums.Kidjo has always been about inclusivity, whether in her pan-African songs, or with numerous collaborators, who include Philip Glass and Indonesia’s Anggun, or in her past two albums – her reworking of Talking Heads’ Remain in Light in 2018 and 2019’s Celia, a tribute to the late salsa diva Celia Cruz.On Mother Nature she returns home, collaborating with an array of young voices on an exuberant album couched in contemporary R&B and hip-hop, but laced with traditional flavours.Its focus is both local and universal.
Dignity, alongside Nigeria’s Yemi Alade, demands an end to police brutality – surely the first time “reciprocal” has been a chorus shout-out – while the title track addresses the climate crisis.Free & Equal, featuring Sampa the Great, returns to the principles of the 1776 US Declaration of Independence.Empowerment, unity and joy combine to catchy effect, with the exceptional Kidjo now leader of a new generation.Neil Spencer If you’ve heard of Eden Ahbez (1908-95), it will be as the composer of the multimillion-selling jazz standard Nature Boy, written for Nat King Cole in 1948 and since covered by everyone from John Coltrane to Lady Gaga.But that was only part of an extraordinary story.
Born in Brooklyn, one of 15 children, he was adopted at the age of nine and brought up in rural Kansas before moving to California.He slept under the stars – claiming to live under an L on the Hollywood sign for years – grew his hair and beard to Christ length, embraced vegetarianism, played the piano in a health food shop, followed a Hindu spiritual guru and lived the hippy lifestyle at least two decades before the word “hippy” was coined.Nature Boy’s success made him something of a celebrity, although his only solo LP, 1960’s Eden’s Island, was a flop, and the death of his wife three years later put a stop to his burgeoning musical career.While researching a documentary about him, Ahbez scholar Brian Chidester recently uncovered a cache of sheet music in Washington DC’s Library of Congress that Ahbez had copyrighted between 1961 and 63, and invited the Swedish band Ìxtahuele to interpret these tunes.The orchestrations are similar to those of Eden’s Island – pitched somewhere between the quirky, Latin-tinged exotica of Martin Denny or Yma Sumac and the orchestral chamber pop of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks.
The melodies pursue a similar Yiddish-accented modal territory to Nature Boy, with harmonic minor and Phrygian dominant scales abounding, played on bamboo flutes, marimba, vibes, Hammond organ, piano and woozy woodwind.Ahbez’s poetry tends to use the proto-flower-power vocabulary shared by Jesus freaks and Buddhist beatniks – enchanted worlds, spiritual pilgrims, sunlit fantasies and so on – but the songs are often arresting.
The Lambert, Hendricks & Ross-style hipster jazz of Dharma Man; the Mark Lanegan-style hymnal lament Fire of the Soul; the Disney-ish ditty The Sandal-Maker; the Afro-Cuban ballads The Lion and the Fox and Bwawto – all deserve to be interpreted for years to come.• Released on 11 June John Lewis Formed from the ashes of 90s noise band Ligament, south London’s Part Chimp first rose to subterranean prominence in the early 00s, their neanderthal din characterised by a refined sense of the absurd.Purveyors of bone-simple dirges and fearless explorers of the higher reaches of volume, they provoked as much grinning as helpless headbanging at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festivals where they found a natural home, and revelled in conceptual gestures such as delivering terrace chants over a noise like Black Sabbath wading though creosote.That taste for sonic extremism remains fearsomely apparent throughout Drool, but Part Chimp have more to offer than a lock-up full of burned-out amplifiers – five albums into their mission, the group have refined their gift for perfectly primitive riffage to a true art.The title track draws equally on the metropolitan gothic of Bad Moon Rising-era Sonic Youth and the dead-eyed drones of Spacemen 3 for its masterly slow build, while Up With Notes is possessed by a wonderfully visceral energy, its helter-skelter riff swerving and diving with dangerous abandon.But while Part Chimp are often heavy, they’re rarely metal – a guest appearance from Tim Farthing of Reigns, who growls like a corpse-painted ghoul on LSD nightmare It’s True Man, ends up underscoring the effectiveness of Chimp frontman Tim Cedar’s comparatively understated approach.
Part Chimp aren’t about machismo or terror, but the simple joy of ridiculously loud noise for its own sake.Drool finds them tightrope-walking the thin line between clever and stupid as brilliantly as ever.Stevie Chick “With the present recording we have tried to recreate and restore the works, to cleanse and detoxify the music”, writes András Schiff in the liner notes for his new Brahms disc.“To liberate it from the burden of the – often questionable – trademarks of performing tradition.” By playing the two concertos on a restored Blüthner piano made in Leipzig around 1859, together with the gut strings and 19th-century wind of the 50-strong Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Schiff’s aim was to get to back to the sound and scale of the performances that the composer himself would have expected.One of Brahms’s favourite orchestras, apparently, was Hans von Bülow’s band in Meiningen, which had just 49 players.In his essay Schiff also reveals it was the two piano concertos that first drew him to Brahms, but while he has known and performed the first concerto for many years (he recorded it in the 1980s with Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic), he took much longer to get to grips with the B flat work.
As you would expect from Schiff, though, the performances of both works are wonderfully rounded and mature.He has gone back to the original manuscripts to check details of his performances, discovering, for instance, that Brahms had attached a metronome marking to the first movement of the D minor concerto that is significantly slower than we usually hear today, but which was omitted from the printed editions.It’s a shock to begin with but Schiff makes it convincing, gradually building the tension through the movement as the sound of his Blüthner – with its much less overpowering lower register than we are used to hearing from modern Steinways – blends beautifully with the soft grained OAE strings, while in the slow movement, it’s the wonderfully mellow woodwind that come into their own.The transparency of the orchestral playing pays dividends in the B flat Concerto too, with Schiff able to make his interpretative points without exaggeration or overassertiveness.
The performances certainly cast new light on two of the greatest piano concertos in the repertoire but the competition on disc is fierce; if they don’t quite sweep all the competition aside, they certainly belong in the front rank of recent recordings.Andrew Clements It would hardly take a genius to notice the thick vein of heartbreak that has run through Lou Barlow’s career away from Dinosaur Jr, whether in Sebadoh, the Folk Implosion or as a solo artist.
As a chronicler of unrequited love and self-lacerating introspection, he has had few peers over the past three decades.But times change and, as anybody lucky enough to have caught last summer’s streamed lockdown shows from his Massachusetts home (with frequent unscripted interruptions from his young daughter) will have noticed, his life now is the very picture of domestic bliss.
Far from being a creative hindrance, this change in circumstances suits Barlow’s muse.While many of the songs here differ little stylistically from his lo-fi self-recorded contributions to 1991’s brilliantly sprawling Sebadoh III – it’s largely just his voice and his acoustic guitar – the variation in tone and mood is a definite upgrade.Lead single Love Intervene is refreshingly brisk and upbeat, its underlying message essentially that love is the answer, while Act of Faith sounds positively exultant.Even songs that might once have sounded angstily passive-aggressive (most notably All You People Suck) are now imbued with warmth.
It all adds up to a highly pleasing change of direction.Phil Mongredien Believe it or not, this was recorded last October – live, before an audience (small and wearing masks) at a jazz club in rural Pennsylvania.Jim Snidero, an alto saxophonist I admire for the deceptively easy grace of his style, had not played in public for about seven months, and neither had the other members of his quartet.They play brilliantly here, especially Snidero and pianist Orrin Evans, although the whole performance is, not surprisingly, a bit more intense than usual.
The programme consists of eight familiar standards: “comfort music”, according to Snidero.It brings out his perfect taste with ballads, never overdoing the decoration on My Old Flame, and releases the whole band’s glorious sense of swing in faster numbers.
Bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth maintain a kind of springy balance that lifts the music so that it seems almost to be floating.I found following Snidero’s sinuous progress through the harmonic outskirts of Bye Bye Blackbird mind-boggling and, at the same time, hugely enjoyable.
It’s easy to forget how exciting straight-ahead jazz improvisation on old songs can be, until something like this turns up unexpectedly.
Dave Gelly Experimental rock group Black Midi’s origin story involves meeting at the Brit School, being championed by the industry and then thrust along the faultline between hype and scepticism: their explosive 2019 debut Schlagenheim was praised and scrutinised for featuring the same aesthetics of noise, no wave and post-punk found in abundance among UK DIY acts.On their second album, they shift focus to their abilities, swapping jam sessions for a more deliberate, compositional approach.They slip prog and jazz into its sludgy sonics as they tell stories spanning despair, delirium and destruction through a fantastical and absurdist lens.John L leads the procession, its frenzied, burst-fire rounds of avant-prog pandemonium introducing shrill violin and tense tenor to the band’s sound in a baptism by fire.Geordie Greep croaks his hushed, foreboding vocals as if sat by a campfire; then Marlene Dietrich – a gentler bossa nova number – sees him slide into a crooner’s lilt.Where his voice on Schlagenheim felt like that of a haughty cynic, here he revels in the act of delivering drama.It’s a successful evolution: the maelstrom of moods stormed across the LP is masterful, from Hogwash and Balderdash’s slapstick skronk-funk riffage and the mathy, spiralling Slow, to Diamond Stuff’s tidal post-rock and Dethroned’s convulsive bassline.
To focus on whether it lives up to the hype is to miss what Cavalcade shows us: a freakish, feverish parade of our inconceivable world and all its extremities, half-measures be damned.• This article was amended on 28 May 2021 to correct a misspelling of the album title in the headline.It is Cavalcade, not Calvacade.
Tayyab Amin With most of the world swiftly entering lockdown in early 2020, few of us could say we had found ourselves in the right place at the right time.Yet musical connections led the Guatemalan cellist and composer Mabe Fratti to quarantine in the artist compound La Orduña, outside Mexico City.It proved to be exactly where she needed to be to compose her second album, Será Que Ahora Podremos Entendernos? (Will We be Able to Understand Each Other Now?).Armed with her cello, synths and field microphones, Fratti set out to record the sounds of birds circling the skies and insects chattering through the night, while sharing compositional ideas with fellow La Orduña residents such as composer Claire Rousay, experimental band Tajak, and multi-instrumentalist Pedro Tirado.The result is nine tracks that inspire inner spaciousness, undercut with a journeying sense of unease, through the creation of ambient, textural soundscapes.A polyrhythmic, plucked cello motif underpins opening number Nadie Sabe, as Fratti’s soft falsetto interweaves with the whistling recordings of birds and an interjecting synth melody.
The sense of ethereality created by the looping of minimalist cello phrases continues through the slow bowing on the following track Mil Formas de Decirlo, and on the undulating drone underpinning Hacia el Vacío.Fratti’s nonchalant vocals are a highlight throughout, recounting her attempts to connect and communicate with an imagined other but always falling short and circling around unanswered questions instead: “Why are you doing this?” she asks on the standout, Arthur Russell-referencing track En Medio.This questioning speaks of the underside to Fratti’s record – elements like the discordant, distorted guitar on Inicio Vínculo Final or the scraping bowing of Cuerpo de Agua and Un Día Cualquiera.These elements provide an insistent reminder that nuance and complexity lies behind every comforting collage of sounds – that even the right place and time will ultimately be subject to change.Ammar Kalia “I could have recorded some Puccini or Verdi”, writes Elizabeth Llewellyn – and that would have been the obvious choice for the debut recital recording from a soprano so much at home on the operatic stage.
Instead, she and the pianist Simon Lepper give us 25 little discoveries, songs from the extensive but little-known output of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.The composer was born in Croydon in 1875.His father, Dr Taylor, had been a medical student, and returned to his home country of Sierra Leone before the birth of his son; his mother named him after the poet (the hyphen in his name allegedly came from a printer’s error later in his career, which he decided to adopt).
Coleridge-Taylor met head-on the challenges of advancing in Victorian society as the mixed-race child of an unmarried woman, and gained the admiration of Elgar, Parry, Stanford and others before his early death.His songs show a melodic instinct to make Sullivan (another fan) jealous, and an independent spirit in their choice of poetry.
Llewellyn’s selection includes the Six Sorrow Songs, in which Coleridge-Taylor’s music amplifies the wistful melancholy in Christina Rossetti’s words, and three Songs of Sun and Shade, setting sensual poetry by the lesbian writer Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall.The seven African Romances have words by the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar; with their open harmonies and lilting rhythms, these reflect an idea of Africa rather than any actual experience of the continent, which Coleridge-Taylor never visited.
Related: Lenny Henry: ‘Classical music belongs to us all.
Just look at Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’ His style recalls Grieg or Dvořák, and while most of the songs may lack the last spark of inspiration that would make them unforgettable, several offer gloriously indelible earworms.Llewellyn soars through them, Lepper skilfully catching each song’s character; it’s not surprise that her voice is on the big side for some, but when the music requires poised stillness she is especially captivating.There’s plenty more where these songs came from, and Llewellyn drops a welcome hint that another Coleridge-Taylor collection might be on the cards.Erica Jeal Hip-hop loves a posthumous album, but DMX’s has arrived sooner than most because it wasn’t supposed to be posthumous at all.Earl Simmons’ career had been in decline since the mid-00s, eventually grinding to a halt amid a litany of legal problems, health issues and financial woes – he filed for bankruptcy three times, was jailed for everything from tax fraud to animal cruelty; struggled with bipolar disorder and addiction and released only one, poorly received official album, 2012’s Undisputed, in the last 15 years.
But prior to his death from an apparent drug overdose this April, he was already on the comeback trail.He had celebrated his release from jail in 2019 with a startling appearance at Kanye West’s Sunday Service, preaching the gospel in the manner of an ill-humoured battle rapper planning on concluding his verse by punching his opponent’s teeth out.
He re-signed to Def Jam, the label on which he had dominated hip-hop at the turn of the millennium: each of the five albums he released for the label went to No 1 in the US, a still-unbroken record, selling more than 16m copies in that country alone.He had, most observers conceded, just snatched victory from Snoop Dogg in a battle on the webcast Verzuz that provoked a plethora of online memes.He had been talking up Exodus – apparently recorded at Snoop’s studio after the Verzuz battle – in the months before his death.Whatever else it may be, it isn’t the kind of posthumous hip-hop album that arrives cobbled together from studio outtakes: according to producer Swizz Beatz, only one track – Money Money Money – was compiled following DMX’s death.And Exodus was clearly intended to spectacularly revive DMX’s career.
There are more guest appearances in these 40 minutes than on his first three albums combined.Clearly his contacts list was raided, with old enmities soothed: Jay-Z, who DMX once described as his “arch nemesis”, turns up on Bath Salt, his smooth boasts about his wealth contrasting sharply with DMX’s raw-throated, desperate-sounding threats of violence.
There’s a fresh generation of rappers including recent US chart-topper Moneybagg Yo and, in one intriguing instance, a vocal rescued from the cutting-room floor: Bono’s contribution to Skyscrapers, a game attempt at spiritual uplift, apparently dates back to at least the early 00s.It feels out of place here because the tone of Exodus is impressively bleak and relentless: for all the starry cast, it feels far more like a bold restatement of core values than an attempt to follow trends.The production – largely the work of Swizz Beatz – is grimy and atonal, chants deputising for musical hooks, backing made up of klaxons, low-end buzzing and echo-drenched voices.
It takes four tracks for anything approaching a melody to appear: when they do – the harpsichord sample swiped from a late-60s French pop track on Money Money Money, Alicia Keys’ impressively restrained appearance on Hold Me Down, a Roland Kirk-ish jazzy flute on Hood Blues – they feel as if they’re engaged in a desperate fight for room with the chaos around them, the effect thrilling.Even the softer tracks that come towards the album’s conclusion feel strangely bleak.
The 70s soul-inspired Walking in the Rain returns to one of DMX’s traditional themes, picking apart his own mental health issues.Circumstances have overtaken Letter to My Son, with its warnings to stay away from drugs: presumably intended to reference DMX’s own harrowing childhood, the Usher-sung chorus – “Dear father, you should have been there when I needed you” – takes on a noticeably different cast given recent events.DMX is in strong form throughout, his guttural voice sounding permanently on the edge of panic, adding an unsettling edge to the threats, a sense of renewed hunger to the boasts, a hint of self-loathing to the self-examination.Related: DMX obituary Whether Exodus would have got the kind of attention it’s receiving had its author lived is a moot point.Hip-hop is a genre in constant forward motion, truly successful comebacks decades after an artist’s commercial peak are rare, and the era of Auto-Tune, Lil Nas X and 42 Dugg is a very different one to that in which DMX reigned supreme.Equally, there are aspects of his approach that seem very modern, not least his willingness to put his frailties front and centre: that his foundational albums didn’t provoke a conversation about mental health has less to do with their contents than the fact that provoking a conversation about mental health wasn’t really a notion in widespread circulation 20 years ago.Either way, Exodus provides a more fitting finale to a truncated career than the last album to bear DMX’s name, 2015’s Redemption of the Beast, released apparently without his knowledge by a shady-sounding minor label he had signed to when the majors no longer wanted to know.That release told you everything about what can happen when a troubled rapper falls out of favour; Exodus tells you something about his talent.
It seems fitting that the first album on Matador (and his sixth in total) from the Nigerien guitarist Mdou Moctar should not come only in the usual formats – CD, vinyl and download – but also preloaded on to a limited-edition Nokia 6120, as a decade ago it was via Bluetooth mobile swaps that his music originally spread across the Sahara.Since then, he has starred in a Tuareg-language remake of the film Purple Rain and been a fierce critic of France’s colonial legacy.
But it’s still as a musician that Moctar is at his most expressive, his brand of hypnotic desert blues infused with field recordings and virtuoso instrumental work.Indeed, the most immediate songs here are those where his fluid soloing takes centre stage, as on album opener Chismiten.Even better is the seven-minute title track, a lament for the continued exploitation of his continent and its peoples that explodes into wild, Hendrix/Van Halen-inspired pyrotechnics for its lengthy coda.It’s made all the more thrilling by the fact that while Moctar is busy conjuring extraordinary sounds from his guitar, the rest of his band keep upping the song’s tempo.Pleasingly, he is no less affecting on his more gentle, acoustic material, as on stripped-back recent single Tala Tannam.• This article was amended on 24 May 2021.
An earlier version incorrectly described Mdou Moctar as Nigerian, rather than Nigerien.Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner can’t play piano.So for Lambchop’s 15th studio album – the third in this Americana artist’s recent experiments in electronics – he transposed music he had written on the guitar on to a midi keyboard.The result is Showtunes, an album whose title suggests razzmatazz but delivers Wagner’s customary laid-back profundity with well placed digital embellishments.Others have been this way before – Bon Iver and Low are just two guitar acts who have reinvented their work electronically.Yet Showtunes is indelibly a Lambchop album, a set of songs that references the legacy of American songwriting from inside a vat of shimmering treacle.
The pace is slow but spacious, giving rise to a pair of instrumental meditations and a seven-minute track, Fuku, whose percussive pops, blithe piano motif and bittersweet brass accretes into a quasi-standard pondering the imperfect nature of love.Drop C uses cut-up found sound in a more staticky way, and Blue Leo essays some disorienting vocal manipulations that are perhaps too reminiscent of the latterday Bon Iver.
Showtunes is much stronger, however, when Wagner layers its disparate elements more subtly – leaning into its limpid jazz horns and electronic atmospheres, with just the distant memory of an opera singer punctuating The Last Benedict.Kitty Empire The southern Italian troupe – let’s call them CGS – offer a lesson in how to turn local music into a global brand, having updated Puglia’s pizzica tradition of song and dance into eclectic, festival-friendly theatre.Mixing originals and age-old songs, this latest album comes loaded with their customary drama, setting individual and collective vocals against handheld tamburello drums (think bodhráns on steroids) and backings of squeezebox, bouzouki, violin and pipes.Openers Balla Nina and Orfeo alternate rapid-fire male and female vocals (suggesting Italian is the natural language of rap) with massed harmonies that have one foot in pagan folk, the other in church.
The production of guitarist Justin Adams (Robert Plant’s lieutenant) adds clever touches of dub and drone to proceedings.Recorded during lockdown with time as one of its themes, Meridiana has contemplative moments such as the title track and the traditional Ntunucciu, where the mood is wistful and forlorn, set to intricate accordion backings, but on the first half of the album, on numbers such as Stornello Alla Memoria and Ninnarella, thumping percussion lurks, waiting to erupt.Joining forces with New York bhangra band Red Baraat for the self-praising Pizzica Bhangra is a natural, if noisy, fit.Hip-hop has no shortage of redemption narratives.
Bugzy Malone’s is ongoing.As recently as last year, the Manchester MC was charged with two counts of wounding – this, after many years spent boxing, rapping, then acting in Guy Ritchie movies in a largely successful effort to put a difficult past behind him.
The 30-year-old still carries sufficient ferocity to have guested on the recent remix of Tion Wayne and Russ Millions’ Body, the first UK No 1 for the drill subgenre.To this stuttering redemption song Malone adds two more hooks.In the UK, grime and hip-hop have long been London-centric.The “King of the North” was the first to put Manchester in contention back in 2015 with a landmark Fire in the Booth radio freestyle.
Manchester’s latest wunderkind, Aitch, has ridden the slipstream of Malone’s hard-hitting, dextrous flows.More pertinently, though, last year Malone nearly died twice.
Not from Covid: riding a quad bike without a helmet at 70mph, he made a very large dent in the side of a car.As he tells it on a track called MEN III, he woke up on the concrete with blood and feathers everywhere – his Moncler down jacket had burst.Weeks later, lying in hospital mending from a bleed on his brain, he felt a blood clot go into his lung.So although it’s a little portentous – and some of this album’s production is over-swathed in scything strings and operatic backing vocals – Malone’s second studio album justifies its title.He knows he’s cheated the reaper a few times, and that he gets to live his second (or third, or fourth) life better than his first.More privileged people who’ve had similar brushes with death write memoirs about them.Reformed hard men from the grittier parts of the 0161 area code make sprawling, Vincent van Gogh-invoking, law of attraction-referencing albums instead.This is one of the finer ones, its vowels representing Malone’s home city throughout.
On these 15 tracks, he comes out swinging – and processing, and stepping up to some responsibilities.Malone has got a lot to say to estranged family.Sometimes, as on Salvador, he’ll own up to missing the excitement of the street life, or the Mini he used to drive.
But the direction of travel is resolutely forward.“The Resurrection/ Constantly workin’ on my imperfections,” he mutters on Skeletons, the candid closing track.You learn that he’s proposed to his girlfriend of nine years (“diamond bigger than a blueberry”).Malone is utterly up for the good times to come.Among The Resurrection’s harder blows are party bangers such as Ride Out and Bounce.
There is much talk of wheels, watches, “everything rose gold”; the kind of luxe that plays well internationally.More locally, he’s recommending the coconut prawns in Harrods’ top-floor restaurant; on another party track, Notorious, Malone buries the hatchet with north London rapper Chip, with whom he had a long feud.
The major sample of Notorious by dancehall MC Turbulence is on point.As predictable as some of these productions are – those strings, operatics – some of this music catches you off guard with its excellence.Cold Nights in the 61 (produced by Blinkie) is made up of just three elements: Malone’s intense flow, and two nagging, repetitive motifs, one a jangling nerve, the other a deep, malevolent bass cutting across it.But this album’s bleakest lows are probably its loftiest highs.There are reasons the man born Aaron Davis turned out like he did.
You really can’t have too many reminders of the role of structural racism and the cavalier attitude of the authorities to children triaged by poverty, abuse and crime.
Malone obliges with the stark, empathetic, angry Welcome to the Hood featuring Emeli Sandé.On Van Gogh Effect, he contrasts the progression of a normal family life against his own childhood, witnessing drug deals and violent retribution.“Can you get traumatised at five?” he asks rhetorically.As he tells it, his mother was, at one point, a crack-using sex worker (“she turned one of her customers into my dad”), but he reckons she did her best by her son.
Malone talks about his youthful suicide attempts, first with a school tie, then with a blade to the wrist.He talks about shooting at people but hitting “the goalposts” instead.If a lot of this is tough to hear, even reframed as pop music, it must have been hell to live through.On Gods, he asks forgiveness for being “a savage and a dog”.
Perhaps this album should be played to the forthcoming jury.Even in a world where streaming’s rise means chart records are broken all the time, the debut single by Disney star Olivia Rodrigo is an anomaly.Upon the release of Drivers License in January, it had the biggest first week for any song ever on Spotify – then hit the 100m streams mark faster than any other track on the platform had before.It debuted at No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for eight weeks – only the seventh song ever to do so.In the UK, it topped the charts for nine weeks and broke the record for the highest single-day streams ever for a non-Christmas song.And yet, both the song and the album it is taken from are propelled by an energy that’s about as far from cold, number-crunching rationality as it is possible to get.Drivers License – a portentous power ballad backed by plummeting drones and minimalist percussion – was written among the ruins of first love.
At 18, Rodrigo, sentimental, furious, mired in self-pity, is staggered at the way her ex-boyfriend has moved on (“I just can’t imagine how you could be so OK now that I’m gone,” begins the chorus crescendo).This isn’t just about romantic rejection: for Rodrigo, reality has been irrevocably ruptured, and she is deeply disturbed.No wonder.
The realisation that somebody you once knew and loved can unilaterally revert back to being a complete stranger – and by doing so seemingly erase all the time you spent together – is among the biggest and most unpleasant shocks of adulthood.In a satisfying mirroring of form and content, almost every single song on Sour –written entirely by Rodrigo and producer Daniel Nigro – deals with the enormity of this development baldly, bluntly, and with none of the meaningless word salad that popstars often hide behind.Rodrigo imagines her ex recycling dates with his new squeeze over the Taylor Swiftian pop of Deja Vu (“Don’t act like we didn’t do that shit too”).The seething pop-punk of Good 4 U has her incredulous at the irony of everything: “I guess that therapist I found for you, she really helped.” She uncovers yet more hypocrisy on the sad and stately Traitor – “Remember I brought her up and you told me I was paranoid?” – and is fundamentally bruised on Enough for You: “I don’t want your sympathy, I just want myself back.” Rodrigo uses the album as a way to do that, by setting down the terms of her own reality, over and over again.And if she sounds like a broken record, that’s the point: what makes Sour such a great album is that its maker is unafraid to make a nuisance of herself.In an interview with the Guardian earlier this month, Rodrigo said she was proud the record revolved around emotions that “aren’t really socially acceptable especially for girls: anger, jealousy, spite, sadness”.
Even the title is a reclamation of the word “sour”, with its connotations of bitter, undesirable women.Considering that women are told to feign disinterest in men lest they scare them off, writing a whole album about how furious and devastated you are that your ex has forgotten you seems like the sort of thing any good friend would strongly advise against.But the shades of cringeworthiness that run through the whole enterprise is the reason why it is so cathartic, and so charming.Of course, the emotions Rodrigo mines are not exclusive to adolescence, but Sour is still a gloriously teenage album.Vulnerability has recently become a watchword for a generation of young (and youth-oriented) musicians who are keen to open up about tumultuous inner lives that revolve around anxiety, low self-esteem and romantic rejection.Rodrigo’s emotional palate is not restricted to that: there is much rage here and the generic grammar to match.
The brilliant opener Brutal starts with elegiac strings before Rodrigo insists things get “like, messy” and the song swiftly morphs into anthemic 90s alt-rock with pregnant pauses suggestive of a droll eye-roll, in the vein of the Breeders’ Cannonball.Good 4 U, meanwhile, channels a more recent strain of rock: a slice of electro-tinged pop-punk, it shares perhaps slightly too much DNA with Paramore’s Misery Business – but it’s hard to care when it metabolises spitting fury into infectious euphoria so expertly.Related: ‘We have to nurture each other’: how Olivia Rodrigo and Gen Z reinvented the power ballad A couple of songs have Rodrigo singing over fingerpicked guitar figures in sweetly folky style (Enough for You, Favorite Crime), while Deja Vu plays with fuzzy, crashing percussion and a mosquito synth-line.The majority of Sour, however, is rooted in the style of its breakout hit: Adele meets Taylor, lovely and unadventurous, thoughtful but hardly breaking new ground.
Which isn’t quite the same as calling it basic or staid.From the way the seatbelt alarm sound births the opening piano line to the gut-wrenching drones of doom that sporadically appear low in the mix, the other heritage fuelling Drivers License is the precise, sparsely furnished production pioneered by the xx that now forms the basis for a huge amount of modern pop.
Rodrigo carries the baton with class and mass appeal, even if things do get a bit samey after a while.Miraculously, the subject matter never seems over repetitive, but Rodrigo loses her nerve right at the end.On closing number Hope Ur Ok, she turns her gaze outwards to sing about people she once knew who have experienced hardship in their lives.It’s as close to a palate cleanser as a song with such a cloying sentiment can get, but thankfully doesn’t overshadow the glorious myopia of Sour: a collection of polished, precociously accomplished pop that doubles as one of the most gratifyingly undignified breakup albums ever made.
Rachel Aroesti They sound almost nothing like each other, but the second album by Erika de Casier – that rarest of musical phenomena, an R&B artist from Ribe, a small town in southern Denmark – feels like a spiritual counterpart of another recent acclaimed album.Like Rina Sawayama’s 2020 debut, Sensational has its roots in childhood hours spent watching early-00s MTV.But while Sawayama reflected the channel’s scattershot bombardment – a world where nu-metal, Britney Spears, hip-hop and Evanescence all jostled for your attention – Sensational is more intensively focused.Born in Portugal to Belgian and Cape Verdean parents, de Casier and her brother were the only two Black kids in their school, and, as she put it, “MTV was the only place I saw other Black people, growing up”.
And so Sensational fixates on the era’s R&B.The shinily perfect plunk of a synthesiser set to sound like an acoustic guitar – familiar from Destiny’s Child’s Bills Bills Bills and TLC’s No Scrubs, among umpteen other tracks – crops up, as does a sampled harp, similar to that found on Brandy and Monica’s The Boy Is Mine; the abstract approach of No Butterflies, No Nothing, a shifting patchwork of synths and samples underpinned by a halting beat that keeps threatening to burst into a double-tempo drum’n’bass break, recalls the more outlandish soundscapes dreamed up by Timbaland for Aaliyah’s eponymous third album.Occasionally, the lyrics make an obvious nod in a similar direction, reappropriating familiar lines from Destiny’s Child’s Independent Women Part 1 among others.But clearly R&B wasn’t the only 00s sound to make an impact on de Casier: the electronics on Better Than That and Someone to Chill With have a ring of the era’s big trance hits about them; the combination of sweet melody and skipping beat on Busy recalls UK garage’s crossover pop successes.
For all de Casier’s musical retrospection, she avoids any sense of pastiche.That’s partly because every track arrives bearing a genuinely beautiful pop melody, setting Sensational apart from the massed ranks of alt-R&B releases – a sub-genre that tends to be big on clever production touches and reference points and extremely low on hooks.
But it’s also because the sound is shot through a gauzy filter – this is, after all, an album released by 4AD, who have a lot of experience with the gauzy and misty-sounding – that seems to bear the influence both of 90s home-listening electronica: Insult Me would slot on to an old Café del Mar compilation without raising too many eyebrows.(De Casier was affiliated with Aarhus-based dance collective Regelbau, whose more horizontally inclined releases tend in the same direction.) It also bears the influence of trip-hop, a genre that seems to be having a second moment in the sun.But, unlike Arlo Parks’ Collapsed in Sunbeams, another recent album in audible thrall to old Mo’ Wax and Ninja Tune 12ins, it homes in, not on the genre’s crackly old soul and funk samples, but its smeared sonic strangeness and its tone of languid small-hours introspection and melancholy.The latter is a mood that fits both with de Casier’s voice – more fragile and whispery than any 00s R&B diva – and the lyrics, which largely focus on failed or failing relationships (involving mansplainers, braggarts and people she doesn’t actually fancy: she can certainly pick them) with wit and originality.
Opener Drama can’t seem to work out whether it’s an apology for an explosion of anger or a coded come-on: “You want drama? I’ll give you a reality show / Night-mode camera / Show you more and more.” Make My Day’s saga of unrequited love retools a series of corny pickup lines (“Do you come here often? And when you fell from the sky did it hurt?”) and there’s something almost Morrissey-esque about its tone of pre-emptive defeatism: “What about tonight? You can turn me down.” Polite, meanwhile, opens with de Casier issuing an exasperated sigh before admonishing her current partner for their bad manners.“I took you on a date in a restaurant / Then you’re rude to the waiter,” she tuts, adding – with a hint of parental admonishment that jars wonderfully against the song’s earlier quotation from 50 Cent’s fairly nasty PIMP – “There won’t be a next time if you keep this up.” Related: Sign up for the Sleeve Notes email: music news, bold reviews and unexpected extras Closer Call Me Anytime, meanwhile, offers a bittersweet kiss-off – her suggestions that she’ll always be there for another ex are drolly tempered by an ominous sounding “You don’t want to make an enemy of me” – and a neat summation of Sensation’s musical appeal: more trancey electronics and warm ambient tones, a melody that one of her R&B heroes might have alighted on with relish 20 years ago, floating over a frantic time-stretched breakbeat sapped of its bass-heavy power.It’s music that looks to the past, made by an artist too original to be a revivalist: memories and retrospection rearranged into something fresh.As he sat down to play the opening notes of this 2019 concert, Martial Solal, pianist and doyen of French jazz, had not yet decided whether it was to be his last performance.He was 91 at the time and had been in the spotlight for 70 years.His account of his musings on this subject – calm, lucid, Gallic – makes the best album note I’ve read in years.
Age has certainly not softened Solal’s playing.He starts with scraps of melody, a few chords, a rhythmic idea, and builds dazzling musical structures.There’s a piece here, called Medley Ellington, which uses bits of Duke Ellington tunes in this way.Solal is a renowned composer, having made his reputation in 1960 with the score for the classic film Breathless.
On this recording, however, he chooses mainly standards.I can’t imagine what the composers of Tea for Two would have made of his witty deconstruction of their harmless little ditty.On the other hand, My Funny Valentine is a tour de force, intense and emotionally charged.A perfect ending.Solal’s mind was made up.This had been his final concert.A slow movement offers a break in the pace of a sonata or symphony, a time to pause and reflect.
This idea hovers around this feather-soft, psych-flavoured anthology of contemporary folk artists, as does the growing social yearning towards a less frenetic, more meaningful connection to the planet and the people around us.
All this idealism may sound very analogue, but Future Folk is a celebration of DIY digital music-making, and how the internet enables communality (the Portuguese label, for environmental reasons, is digital-only).The album consists of 13 intimate tracks made in homespun studios or via remote online collaborations, jumbling together traditional songs and instrumentals with experimental approaches and productions.
Medieval ballad, Sir Orfeo, kicks things off, sung by Herefordshire duo Alula Down.The buzzing drone of a harmonium and a skittish double bass invite menace to this tale of a king hunting down his wife, then uncanny ambient instrumentals and vocal-led miniatures follow.Layers of drowsy atmospheres often part to reveal moments of light.Some tracks lean towards more traditional sounds, such as Ben McElroy’s The Silence Has Spoken: its sunrise-dappled drones soon open out into a soothing parade of fiddle and accordion.Scott William Urquhart’s Pastoral paddles downstream of Bert Jansch and John Renbourn.Elsewhere, the Howard Hughes Suite and Geir Sundstøl’s Afterglow bends shimmery pedal steel into almost Balearic soundscapes, and El Conejo’s Tres Tigres Tristes pans its delicate guitar strings so subtly from left to right, you feel like you’re being lapped at by lazy waters.
These songs creep up on you, especially Pete Thompson’s jittery This Is a Robbery and Me Lost Me’s Nightingale, an arresting a cappella duet with her synthesised double.It crystallises the collection’s peculiar mood, stripping folk back to its bones while letting its future echoes bleed out.Jude Rogers Over a 20-year trajectory from playing in bars with no audience to filling arenas, the Black Keys have never lost the blues.The Ohio duo of singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney’s 10th album illustrates the point with a set of songs by the north Mississippi artists that continue to inspire them, such as Lafayette County’s late RL Burnside and Hudsonville’s also deceased Junior Kimbrough, a labelmate when the early Black Keys recorded for Fat Possum.Backed by those bluesmen’s own sidemen – Burnside’s slide guitarist Kenny Brown and Kimbrough’s bassist Eric Deaton – the pair have returned to the simpler joys of their early records.
With Auerbach sparing the postmodern production that has been intrinsic to later Black Keys albums, in just 10 hours the four men recorded more than two post-tour afternoons, mostly in first takes.We hear studio chatter such as “Ready?” and “Yes sir” and the songs’ raw, simmering feel is epitomised by their low-slung, groovier, sleazy take on Crawling Kingsnake, as previously popularised by John Lee Hooker and the Doors.Kimbrough’s Stay All Night magically drips with midnight oil yearning and Walk With Me hammers a groove to mantra-like repetition.
The now hugely successful pair can’t perhaps sing Burnside’s Poor Boy a Long Way from Home with any great factual accuracy nowadays, but they sound thoroughly in their comfort zone and utterly in their element.Dave Simpson As well as being one of the 20th century’s leading neoclassical composers, Paul Hindemith was also an outstanding instrumentalist, first as a violinist and later as a viola player of international renown.
His versatility was such that reputedly he could play each of the standard orchestral instruments to professional standard, and he utilised that hands-on knowledge in the sonatas (26 altogether) that he composed for all of them.The wind sonatas are perhaps the best known, and few woodwind and horn players will not have learnt the relevant Hindemith work at some stage in their careers.Partnered by the pianist Eric Le Sage, the members of the quintet Les Vents Français, all of them front-rank soloists in their own right, give fabulously fluent performances of pieces that they have probably known since they were students.There are the sonatas for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, modestly proportioned works, none of which lasts longer than 16 minutes, and all composed in the late 1930s.But, instead of the 1938 Horn Sonata, Radovan Vlatković opts for the sonata for tenor horn, which Hindemith wrote in 1942, but which is often now played on the French horn.There’s lots to admire in Emmanuel Pahud’s performance of the Flute Sonata and François Leleux’s account of the oboe work, both smooth and suave, the epitome of French woodwind playing, and in the agility of clarinettist Paul Meyer and bassoonist Gilbert Audin.
But it’s the four-movement Tenor Horn Sonata that’s the real treasure here.Vlatković reveals it to be a work of unexpected beauty and depth, with a spoken dialogue between the horn-player and the pianist, which Hindemith inserted as a preface to the finale, adding to its enigmatic charm..