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Album Reviews A dizzying array of ambitious songs to get under your skin

This week IAN SINCLAIR reviews albums by Paul Steel, Luluc, and Kamasi Washington

Kamasi Washington
Heaven and Earth
(Young Turks)
★★★★★

AS THE album cover imagines — at least in my head — Kamasi Washington has come down to Earth to save jazz music.

Like 2015’s 170-minute The Epic album, Heaven and Earth is a huge artistic statement, it’s sprawling, intergalactic, largely instrumental — jazz-soul-funk spread over three discs.

LA-based saxophonist Washington composed, arranged and produced most of the symphonic music, though his languid take on Goffin and King’s Will You Love Me Tomorrow is a stand-out, as is the hectic cover of Freddie Hubbard’s Hub Tones.

Best of all is the mind-blowing and incredibly exciting version of the Fist Of Fury film theme, updated as a Black Lives Matter-era anthem, with vocalists Patrice Quinn and Dwight Trible promising “justice” and “retribution.”

Backed by a choir, orchestra and band including drummer Miles Mosley and funky bassist Thundercat, it’s massively ambitious and absolutely magnificent. 

Paul Steel
Carousel Kites
(Raygun Records)
★★★★

Ten years after releasing his critically acclaimed debut album as a 19-year-old, Brighton singer-songwriter Paul Steel returns with another astonishing record.

A sorta concept album about his experiences of the music industry — Steel has worked as a writer for hire and contributed to The Shape of Water film soundtrack — he joyously and liberally rips off all the best artists in pop history.

Opener Ready To Fly brilliantly blends The Beach Boys and Wings before morphing into a show tune, while Last Guilt Trip mixes over the top Bohemian Rhapsody-style harmonies and Beatlesesque orchestral swoons.

Elsewhere, Do What Everybody Else Does makes a good stab at snotty Britpop a la Tiger and Supergrass, Yeti Rawk is pure Steely Dan Yacht Rock and Skydaddy could be the theme tune to a ’70s US cop show.

A dizzying array of genres and styles from a hugely talented artist.

Luluc
Sculptor
(Sup Pop)
★★★★

The third album from Australian duo Luluc is a beguiling set of stripped-back indie-folk, centred on the difficulties of being a teenager in a small, claustrophobic community.

Songwriter’s Zoe Randall’s vocals are confident and searing, while multi-instrumentalist and producer Steve Hassett provides impressive accompaniment.

On Kids Randall sings of “small town minds” and of the “thought police” following the protagonist down the street. Similarly Controversy includes lyrics lifted from the famous Oz novel My Brother Jack, stating what is so “terrifying about these suburbs was that they accepted their mediocrity.”

With guest appearances from J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr and The National’s Aaron Dessner, musically, the record mines the imposing atmosphere of Beach House and, on Me and Jasper, the beautiful vocal harmonies of Norwegian quietists Kings of Convenience.

Unhurried and assured, Sculptor really gets under your skin.

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