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MUSIC Album reviews with Kevin Bryan, Simon Duff and Mik Sabiers

Latest releases from Michael McDermott, Ital Tek, Little Red Kings, Hayley Williams, Burial, The Dears, Gary Fletcher, Roger and Brian Eno and Wendy James

Michael McDermott
What in the World ...
(Pauper Sky Records)
★★★★

CHICAGO-BORN Michael McDermott’s poetic musings on the parlous predicament of US politics and humanity in general always repay closer investigation and his new album must rank as his most compelling offering to date.

No less a literary luminary than Stephen King has hailed McDermott as one of the best songwriters in the world, “possibly the greatest undiscovered rock’n’roll talent of the past 20 years” and he’s certainly in particularly fine fettle here.

The Dylanesque stream-of-consciousness title track points an accusing finger at the assorted heinous inhumanities perpetrated by the Trump regime via a tumbling flood of memorable lyrical images, forming a beautiful contrast with the much more low-key charms of Positively Central Park and New York, Texas, a subdued gem strongly reminiscent of “Nebraska” era Springsteen at his brilliant best.

Kevin Bryan
 

Ital Tek
Outland
(Planet Mu)
★★★★

PLANET Mu have been releasing cutting edge electronic dance music since 1995 and the sixth Ital Tek album is no exception.

Written during a period of new beginnings for Ital Tek following the birth of his first child, the album is work of highly crafted atmospheric drama, angelic influences, dark bass, driving melodies and original beats, all dealing emotional punches.

The beat-driven Deadhead combines bouncing dance bass, angular distorted bleeping melodies and cavernous textures, while on Bladed Terrain the contrasts are well defined with buzzing drones and sharp drums plunging into a grainy fog, giving the track a dramatic cinematic feel.

The highlight is the Burial dubstep-inspired Leaving The Grid, where an insistent melody evaporates into space before re-emerging with shuddering experimental rhythms and gentle ghostly textures.
Ital Tek is a force, up there with the very best in EDM.

Simon Duff

Hayley Williams
Petals for Armor
(Atlantic)
★★★★

PERHAPS best known as the frontwoman of emo supremos Paramore, Hayley Williams has used the band’s hiatus to record her debut album.

Cataloguing her faith, a failed marriage, descent into and exit from depression, it takes in multiple genres from her emo/rock roots to pop, with funk, rave and even R&B thrown in.

It’s angry stuff. The first word of opening track Simmer is “rage” and Williams does not let up but it’s also cathartic and optimistic.

There’s Bjork-like oddness on Sudden Desire and No Doubt-like rock on Dead Horse, while Sugar in the Rim, with blocky beats, simple calls and kooky keys, is a rave-like banger mainlining Soft Cell and Nine Inch Nails decadence.

With musical twists and turns, all underpinned by her sweet voice, this is an emotional, idiosyncratic, sensual and uplifting outing, offering an insightful view of Williams’s influences and interests.

Mik Sabiers

Little Red Kings
The Magic Show Part One
(Self-released)
★★★★

THE FUTURE of British alternative rock is in safe hands as long as outfits such as Little Red Kings are around to ply their trade with such grit and innate tunefulness.

The Norfolk-based band’s deliciously organic approach to music-making has prompted knowledgeable pundits to wheel out favourable comparisons with illustrious outfits such as Hothouse Flowers and The Black Crowes.

There’s also an infectious melodic edge to much of Little Red Kings’ best work which sets them apart from many of their contemporaries. The Magic Show Part One was recorded at vocalist Jason Wick’s Goat Pen Studios and supplies an eloquent introduction to the group’s appealingly timeless sound, with refreshingly rootsy stand-out tracks such as Weather The Storm and Harry’s Town  capturing the essence of their enjoyable and life-enhancing sound.

KB

Burial
Tunes 2011-2019
(Hyperdub)
★★★★★

THE DEBUT album from Burial in 2006 came with a conceptual viewpoint of south London flooded by the Thames.

Representing a milestone in left-field experimental dub step it put Hyperdub, the label behind Burial, centre stage. Then came the album Untrue in 2007 and since then no albums but a series of EPs and 12” releases.

Tunes 2011-2019 is a collection of highlights that without prove why Burial is so vital. Starting with the the most recently released works, the ambient beatless melancholic drama of State Forest opens. Subsequent tracks — and Come Down to Us is a 13-minute feast for the senses — continue in the same vein.

To date, Burial has not performed live but if Hyperdub do decide to present new work in a new online experimental format, demand would surely secure the label.  

SD

The Dears
Lovers Rock
(Dangerbird Records)
★★★

ALT-POP rockers The Dears’ eighth studio album Lovers Rock is anything but.

Built around husband-and-wife team Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak, the former’s baroque-like voice combines with a mix of atmospheric indie rock and acoustic guitar, sometimes accompanied by a jazzy backing, that switches from sombre tributes to heavier calls for change.

The titles are dark and the lyrics downbeat but the music is bright. There are shades of Britpop — Elastica, Suede et al — but mostly Barry Adamson’s pseudo-soundtracks spring to mind.

Slow songs like I Know What You’re Thinking and It’s Awful are plentiful, while others like Instant Nightmare ramp up the rock but not necessarily the pace. The Worst In Us stands out, with its goth-like guitar high in the mix.

Yet despite the orchestral extravagance, and Lightburn’s morose yet likeable lyrical musings, it’s all a bit middle of the road.

MS

Gary Fletcher
River Keeps Flowing
(Repertoire Records)
★★★

THIS musically diverse offering finds Blues Band co-founder Gary Fletcher in particularly fine fettle as he indulges his lifelong passion for the timeless delights of blues, Americana and folk.

As well as activities with the Blues Band, Fletcher has performed or recorded with a whole host of luminaries over the years, including Van Morrison, John Mayall and former Stone the Crows vocalist Maggie Bell to name but a few.

His sterling efforts are aided and abetted here by a bunch of top-notch players including Slim Chance’s Charlie Hart and Fletcher’s  longstanding bandmate Paul Jones, who adds his harmonica to Back To Your Heart and You Can, You Can.

Bill Gautier’s polished production work also deserves a mention in dispatches as Fletcher takes this welcome opportunity to underline his often under-rated skills as a writer, singer and guitarist.

KB

Roger and Brian Eno
Mixing Colours
(DG)
★★★★

Roger Eno, older brother of Brian, is an accomplished pianist and composer, who’s collaborated over the years with the likes of Peter Hamill, The Orb and Laraaji.

Mixing Colours sees Brian processing and editing his brother’s MIDI files and FX processing in order to realise a simple sonic frame.

Influences at work include John Cage’s melodic simplicity, Franz Schubert’s romanticism, Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies, impressionist art and minimalism, with the relatively short pieces relating to the names of colours.

Notation is relatively simple and sparse and perhaps time might have been spent on tempo variations and moods to create more original palettes but, that said, pieces such as Celeste and Deep Saffron are engaging and fulfilling in their own right.

The highlight is Obsidian, a slow reflective piece with a quasi-religious zeal.

SD

Wendy James
Queen High Straight
(thewendyjames.com)
★★★

BURSTING on the scene in a hail of publicity and attitude, vocalist Wendy James is perhaps best known as the pop-punk princess who fronted Transvision Vamp.

Some 30 years down the line, people may be surprised that she’s still going and releasing her fifth solo album.

Opening with the Burt Bacharach infused and lounge-like Queen High Straight, it’s perfectly pleasant and evocative of 1960s pop.

But then it shifts direction. With Perilous Beauty reverting to rock basics evocative of the Vamp of old crossed with Iggy and elsewhere there’s the countrified She Likes To Be or the whimsical I’ll Be Here When the Morning Comes.

The Impression of Normalcy — perhaps the album highlight — is a fast-paced punk track that could have done with some editing.

Combining punk, lounge, whimsy, jazz and more, in the end it’s neither good nor bad and left this listener somewhat indifferent.

Not one to repeatedly trouble the turntable.

MS

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