3 albums you might have missed.

St Germain, St Germain

St. Germain

St. Germain.

If you went to a house party, anywhere, any time during the first decade of this century, you will at some point in the evening have heard the lead single, Rose Rouge, from St Germain’s second album Tourist (you can see the video here) wafting from one of the rooms.

It was when you think about it a surprising recipe for success. A cerebral album constructed of layered tracks made up of acid jazz and obscure blues and RnB samples, all put together with painstaking precision.

Unsurprisingly Ludovic Navarre who is St Germain was somewhat taken aback by the 3 million units his album shifted, and he slipped back into the shadows as he tried to work out what to do next.

What he did was to dive into the heart of Africa where he’s lived for the last decade or so, soaking up their rhythms and the result is this, his eponymously titled third album. It’s as meticulously pieced together as the previous pair, but the result is far more organic sounding.

The emphasis here is on the beguiling melodies and musicianship of Mali, so that whatever’s sampled slips seamlessly in under the radar. If you haven’t been introduced to the majestic Éthiopique albums and haven’t been following what Damon Albarn, Brian Eno et al have been doing in sub-Saharan Africa then this is a great place to start. Either way, this is a pleasing addition to what is, happily, an increasingly crowded terrain. You can hear the single Real Blues here.

BOOTS, Aquaria

BOOTS, Aquaria

BOOTS, Aquaria

Boots produced and wrote the four best songs on Beyonce’s self-titled fifth album, as well as producing the third ep from this generation’s Spice Girl FKA Twigs – she’d have been dubbed Pretty Spice had she been there first time around. But he’s significantly more interesting than that would suggest. And Aquaria is his debut album.

Rather than either of the above, the person whose presence is most keenly felt here is, happily, that of his co-producer El-P. There is a nervous energy and agitated, sonic inquisitiveness that is matched by the enigmatic nature of the lyrics he produces.

David Bowie, any excuse for one final salute.

David Bowie, any excuse for one final salute.

Like Bowie, Burroughs, Thom Yorke and many more besides, he uses the cut-up technique of deliberately fragmenting phrases as an avenue into the subconscious.

Unfairly overlooked on its release – though not by The Independent’s ever reliable Andy Gill hereAquaria is a constantly questing, substantial debut album.

 

The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, Beauty Will Save the World

Between 1987 and 1993 the impeccably named RAIJ produced two albums and a couple of eps. And that was that. But then at the end of last year, Lars Gotrich heralded the arrival of this their third studio album on the mandatory All Songs Considered podcast (reviewed earlier here).

The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, Beauty WiIl Save The World.

The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, Beauty WiIl Save The World.

Middle Eastern vocal arabesques sit on north African rhythms, medieval plainsong and Baroque dirges mingle with post-Romantic, Satie-esque piano motifs, found sound recordings from the American Bible belt slip in and out of focus recalling the pioneering work that Byrne and Eno did on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which in turn had been borrowed from Steve Reich. But instead of being viewed with the studied, detached disinterest of the New York avant garde, speaking in tongues is presented as something to be secretly hoped for.

If the phrase hadn’t been so hopelessly overused, you’d describe this as the ultimate chill-out album. Imagine if The Penguin Café Orchestra had gone into a recording studio with a bag of magic mushrooms, and the results had been released on 4AD. Beauty Will Save the World is as richly eclectic, musically sophisticated and sonically satisfying an album as you could hope to get your hands on.

You can read Lars Gotrich’s interview with them here. And you can see the video, all 9 minutes of it, for the track they discuss here.

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3 albums from around the world.

Ibeyi

Ibeyi

Ibeyi is the debut album from the French Cuban twin sisters of the same name. Their father was the Cuban drummer Anga Diaz, who played with Irakere and then the Buena Vista Social Club, while their mother is the French Venezuelan singer Maya Dagnino.

Having spent their lives shuttling between their home in Paris and Cuba the music they produce is a heady mix of vintage Cuban influences and a contemporary north European indie vibe. And is dominated by an Afro-Cuban beat that manages to be at once extraordinarily complex and technical and yet irresistibly alluring.

Yet there’s a subdued feel to the album, born of the fact that a number of the songs address their father, who died when the pair were 13 – they are in their very early 20s now – and their older sister who died soon after.

The Buena Vista Social Club.

The Buena Vista Social Club.

Not that it is in any way a depressing album, merely somewhat understated. There’s a spiritual force behind the songs, albeit a subtle one, and one that’s both pre-modern and non European – I’m striving valiantly here to avoid the word “primitive”.

The result is indietronica fused with hiphop of the RnB variety, underscored by African rhythms and Cuban swing. You can see the video for the single River here.

Rhiannon Giddens won a Grammy as part of the roots Americana group Carolina Chocolate Drops, but she only really came to prominence after her show steeling performance in the film Another Day Another Time.

The Coen brothers had hoped to repeat the success of O Brother Where Art Thou with this filmed concert of the OST album from Inside Llewyn Davis. The forget-the-film-enjoy-the-soundtrack ploy failed to catch fire this time around, and the resulting follow up film was largely ignored. Which was a shame, as Another Day Another Time was a lot better than it might have been given the input of the one of the Mumfords. What it did do was to introduce the world to Rhiannon Giddens, whose performance of a Scot’s Gaelic reel is jaw-dropping – you can see her perform it in Glasgow here.

Rhiannon Giddens Tomorrow Is

Rhiannon Giddens Tomorrow Is My Turn.

Tomorrow Is My Turn is her debut album out on Nonesuch and is produced inevitably by T-Bone Burnett. It moves effortlessly from covers of The Dubliners, Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton to Odetta and Nina Simone, going from protest, jazz and gospel to country and pop. The result is a timeless, modern American songbook.

Once in a blue moon, the planets align and the universe conspires to produce an album that has clearly been recorded just for you. I came across Imam Baildi, named after the stuffed aubergine dish from the eastern Mediterranean, thanks as ever to the uber reliable All Songs Considered podcast from NPR (reviewed earlier here).

The Imam Baildi Cookbook.

The Imam Baildi Cookbook.

The Falireas brothers grew up in Greece listening to the Rebetiko 78s that their father sold in his record shop. Rebetiko is a mixture of late 19th century Ottoman Greek, Turkish and Balkan influences that marries the sweeping, plangent melodies of the country with the urban concerns of the ports and cities, invariably centred around the sounds of the bouzouki. It re-surfaced in the café music of Greece and Turkey in the 40s 50s and 60s.

All of which the band fuse with thumping 21st century RnB, funk, and hiphop. Intoxicating. I’ve started off with the second of their three albums, the Imam Baildi Cookbook, and am doing my very best to limit myself to but two or three plays a day. Some hope. You can hear Busca Ritmo from the Cookbook here. And a track from the 2014 album Imam Baildi III here.

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Two new albums to set you fare for summer.

To Where The Wild Things Are.

To Where The Wild Things Are.

To Where The Wild Things Are is the second album from Death and Vanilla. The Swedish trio continue where The White Stripes left off, applying a rigorous sonic aesthetic with the kind of intensity that only youth can produce.

All the tracks were recorded gathered around a vintage mic found they claim in a flea market, and fashioned from the authentically antique sounds produced from a Moog synthesizer, Mellotron, vibraphone, organ, some sampled vintage vinyl and a harpsichord, into which an ethereal female vocal is dissolved. Think the Velvets recorded for 4AD in Berlin circa’77.

Death and Vanilla

Death and Vanilla

The result is a grungey velvety dreamy synth pop that sounds oh so 60s and yet unmistakably now. Broadcast is the usual reference point, but you could just as easily point to Massey Star via Nancy Sinatra. Just how vintage are they? They’ve even made one of those beguilingly esoteric and enigmatic videos that only the really serious and seriously indie bands used to make. It’s for the single and stand out track on the album, California Owls. It shimmers and you can see it here.

Kamasi Washington, The Epic.

Kamasi Washington, The Epic.

Kamasi Washington has spent as much time on the hip hop circuit as he has the jazz, supporting the likes of Snoop, Lauryn Hill, Flying Lotus and most famously, as one of the core musicians on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

But you’re just as likely to have seen him in the company of Herbie Hancock, Kenny Burrell and Wayne Shorter and his heart is clearly in the world of jazz.

So he took his core band into the studio and together they laid down some 45 tracks. Eventually, they whittled these down to a paltry 17, and the resulting triple album, The Epic comes in at a brisk 3 hours.

Alice Coltrane

Alice Coltrane

You can’t really get away with that in pop or rock, but in jazz the extended timeframe gives that very particular form of expression the space it needs to breathe. Or at least it does when you’re as effortlessly versatile and a musically educated as Washington is.

It’s released on Flylo’s Brainfeeder records, which is very much as it should be as the former is the nephew of Alice Coltrane, and more than anyone else it’s the light of John Coltrane that the album most impressively basks in.

Flying Lotus' You're dead!

Flying Lotus’ You’re dead!

Not that this is any way a conventional throwback to sounds of the past. Rather it’s a celebration of classical jazz in its many 21st century forms. There’s fusion obviously, but also lounge, some strings, the occasional female vocal, and no end of outrageously complex syncopation. Very much in other words the same musical landscape as Flylo, whose last two albums I reviewed here and here. Only instead of a single album in the vein of hip hop, it’s a treble album of classical jazz. And not a singe second of it is wasted.

The boys from Pitchfork gave is a 8.6 here. And you can get a taster here.

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Former Fleet Fox flames into being as Father John Misty.

I Love You Honeybear, Father John Misty

I Love You, Honeybear, Father John Misty

J. Tillman spent four years as the drummer with Fleet Foxes after joining the band in 2008. But by then he’d already produced four or five solo albums. And since leaving the band in 2012, he’s added another in the guise of his new persona Father John Misty. But nothing could have prepared us for what he offers up here, with this his second album under that moniker, I Love You, Honeybear.

Tillman said that for years, he dreamt of garnering the kind of hallowed praise that the likes of Townes Van Zandt or Gram Parsons are garlanded with, and of remaining forever one of music’s fabled secret finds. But he gradually came to realise that the audience at his gigs were far more engaged with the relaxed, smart alec persona he adopted in between songs, than they were with the somewhat po-faced numbers he was ostensibly there to perform.

So he headed off into the desert with enough magic mushrooms to send a psychedelic elephant into space and sat down to write a novel. And it was only then that he finally found his song writing voice. This is the result.

Lennon and Nilsson get thrown of The Troubadour.

Lennon and Nilsson get thrown out of The Troubadour.

As the boys from Pitchfork note in their review here, where it gets a suitably impressed 8.8, it is, at least initially, a disconcertingly slippery record to pin down.

Yes there are the sorts of soaring harmonies you’d expect from a former Fleet Fox. And sure, the Beatles are indeed an obvious reference.

But it’s the kind of Beatles album you might have heard had John Lennon made it all by himself five years after they split up. He and Harry Nilsson downed industrial sized quantities of drugs in L.A. every night, sending the former Beatle on a rollercoaster of violent mood swings that saw him oscillate wildly from profound self-disgust and doubt, to arrogant disdain and scorn, and back again.

J Tillman, born again as Father John Misty.

J Tillman, born again as Father John Misty.

Even when Tillman puts the violent introspection of Lennon aside to momentarily channel George Harrison in When You’re Smiling and Astride Me, there’s a dangerous edge to the lyrics, not withstanding the honeyed sweep of the guitar.

It’s the perfect palliative to the track that precedes it, The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment, where a latter day Factory girl is felled by the kind of undiluted scorn a young Dylan would have approved of.

“She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes,

And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream,

I wonder if she even knows what that word means,

Well, it’s literally not that.”

And we’ll assume of course that the misuse of malaprops was done for comic effect. What’s so impressive, and so emotionally engaging about the album is that it perfectly captures the confusion of youth, but it does so thanks to a lyrical and musical sophistication that only comes with age.

Just say Yes.

Just say Yes.

Sure it’s hard to know precisely when he’s merely striking a carefully constructed pose, and when he’s genuinely shedding the many masks to reveal the boy beneath. But his glorious grasp of melody, and the unrestrained passion that he delivers them in give a strong sense that beneath the surface scorn, there’s a lot more of the real him on show than he’d care to readily admit.

And it’s that combination of un-repentant intellectual confidence with profound emotional confusion, together with the clear sense that this is an album, that has been clearly thought about and meticulously programmed, that makes this such an impressive piece of work.

You can see him perform one of its songs, Bored in the USA on Letterman here.

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Bowie as ever bucks the trend.

David Bowie "Nothing Has Changed".

Double-vinyle edition.

Like Reader’s Digest and tinned spaghetti, greatest hits albums are a cultural affront. By taking the original out of its context, and reducing and re-packaging it with such shameless cynicism, you hopelessly devalue it whilst insulting the intelligence of those you are trying to appeal to.

Invariably, they’re something the record label releases behind your back, and as such, most artists want nothing to do with them. As ever and as usual, David Bowie appears to be the exception to this.

Something about the man seems to give everything he does an irresistible sheen. And of late, he’s pulled off the remarkable feat of making even his money making schemes look chic. After he issued his Bowie Bonds in 1997 for a cool 55 million pounds Sterling, and whenever another ad appears propped up by one more of his (albeit re-mastered) tracks, we all applaud, impressed.

The triple cd and the one to get.

The triple cd and the one to get.

Instead of lamenting that one of the giants has joined the great unwashed to spend what remains of his precious time in pointlessly dredging through his back catalogue to needlessly generate yet more un-necessary money. We congratulate him on treating the monetization of his back catalogue with as much imagination as he would the creation of a new album.

And now he’s pulled off the same feat with (another) greatest hits collection, Nothing Has Changed.

Perhaps it’s just that when an artist does take a personal interest in a greatest hits album, we’re so unused to it that it feels like they’ve called around to our house to talk us through it personally.

The fact of the matter is, the tweaks that he has made to this one probably amounted to no more than a one line email dictated to one of his assistants.

Yet there’s no getting away from it. Nothing Has Changed feels like Bowie has personally overseen it. And as such, it feels so much more substantial than a conventional collection. Once again, and as ever, we’re impressed.

The 2-cd edition.

The 2-cd edition.

There are three different versions, each (again) with their own bespoke cover art. And, as noted by the boys from Pitchfork who give it an 8.8 here, you can ignore the two more conventional double albums, and go straight for the impressively dynamic triple cd version.

It sounds like only a small thing, but going through his career as it does in reverse order is inspired. Instead of wearing out the first cd, returning to the second, and only occasionally dipping into the third, you listen with rapt attention to all three as it builds and builds.

It’s not that there’s been nothing of worth since 1990. But truth be told, the gems have gotten fewer and further between. So the fact that a number of the more recent tracks have been given a re-mix helps to bolster the earlier (ie chronologically later) tracks.

But even here, you sense his personal presence. When James Murphy references Ashes to Ashes in his Love is Lost, and then the Pet Shop Boys give Space Oddity a nod on their Hello Spaceboy it’s impossible not to imagine the great man standing behind them at the mixing desk, overseeing matters.

In the midst of those 5 extraordinary years.

In the midst of those 5 extraordinary years.

But what really makes the whole thing so captivating is the confirmation that Bowie has a Mozart-esqe ability to churn out impossibly memorable melodies at the drop of one of his many hats. What this means is, that he is at once an albums artist, and a singles artist.

On the one hand, there’s the Bowie who made, arguably, the most impressive and outrageously diverse 6 albums ever produced, over a six year period between 1975 and 1980, beginning with Young Americans and culminating with Scary Monsters.

From total immersion in Philly soul, to the forefront of the electronic avant-garde, and on into the second wave of punk. And all just two years after being the newly crowned king of glam rock.

And yet at the same time and during all of which, he can produce a never-ending string of outrageously hummable tunes that pull unashamedly at the heart strings. From Life On Mars and Drive-in Saturday in the early 70s to Everyone Says Hi in 2002 and Where Are We Now? from last year’s otherwise (whisper it) hugely disappointing The Next Day.

It’s this combination of artistic ambition, and an ear for the perfect melody that makes Bowie so beguiling, and keeps us all so consistently impressed. And that’s what raises this collection up so thrillingly.

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