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Music Album reviews with Ian Sinclair: November 20, 2023

Reviews of R.E.M., Israel Nash and John Francis Flynn

R.E.M.
Up
(Craft)

★★★★

 

RELEASED in the wake of R.E.M’s early 1990s imperial phase, Up was a leftfield turn for the US’s biggest rock band.

With founding member Bill Berry stepping down from the drummer’s chair, the now three-piece group embraced drum machines and electronica, and a more intimate, arguably more downbeat sound.

This 25th anniversary reissue includes the original album and a previously unreleased 11-song warm-up gig from 1999 in front of a small crowd of fans.

UK hit Daysleeper, a pen portrait of a night worker, and Lotus hark back to the group’s classic sound but the more un-R.E.M-like songs also thrill. Hope is a particular standout, combining lo-fi beats with lyrical phrasing that mimics Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne.

With Thom Yorke citing the album as an inspiration for Radiohead’s Kid A, Up remains a fascinating instalment in R.E.M’s celebrated oeuvre.

 

Israel Nash
Ozarker
(Loose)

★★★★★

US singer-songwriter Israel Nash has been threatening to make his masterpiece for some time now, and Ozarker might just be it.

Inspired by growing up in small-town Missouri and the Heartland Rock of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Bob Seger he listened to back then, this is expansive, euphoric music. The guitars ring out clear and true and the anthemic choruses are canyon-sized.

Nash sings about the universal human values of “desire, struggle, commitment, escape” on songs like the title track, an ode to his migrant worker great-grandfather, and Lost in America, which tells the story of a troubled Vietnam vet. The astonishing Going Back sounds like Meat Loaf if Jim Steinman had been socially conscious and interested in bank heists.  

The whole caboodle has a remarkably rich consistency too, making it one of my albums of the year.

 

John Francis Flynn
Look Over The Wall, See The Sky
(River Lea Recording)

★★★★

LANKUM, Lisa O’Neill, The Mary Wallopers and John Francis Flynn — the Irish folk scene is teeming with ultra-talented artists. 

On his second solo album Flynn, based in his country’s capital city, delves further into the sonic landscapes he deftly wove on his extraordinary debut, once again adding various electronic effects to his renditions of traditional songs. 

Most strikingly, Within A Mile Of Dublin starts off as a jaunty jig before being enveloped in static and ending with what sounds like a version of ’90s breakbeat ala Leftfield’s Phat Planet. Flynn’s hypnotic version of the 1928 US protest song Mole In The Ground is another highlight: “The railroad man will kill you when he can/And he’ll drink up your blood like wine,” he intones.

Grippingly intense and challenging in equal measure, John Francis Flynn has produced another astonishing set.

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