April was the perfect month to discover something different when it came to new music. Read all about it and listen to the tracks at the end of the post.
From album: Record
During the 90s, the band Everything But The Girl was the epitome of fey-indie. That was until house DJ Todd Terry created a remix of the still-lovely Missing and everything blew wide open. The band’s next album, 1994’s Walking Wounded, was all icy synths and super classy beats. Strangely, both the band and it’s two principle members seemed to then withdraw into hibernation (in truth they continued producing music). EBTG lead singer Tracey Thorn has finally released what feels like Walking Wounded’s natural successor, 24 years too late, by way of her latest solo album Record. In style, it’s once again pretty, melodic, dancefloor-ready stuff. But it’s Thorn’s singing that is the star here. Her voice has retained a stunning richness, a deep, luxurious baritone that sounds almost masculine on certain tracks. Befitting of a woman in her 50s the lyrics are mature reflections on adult things like children, divorce and aging. She also adopts a firmly feminist stance, most notably on Sister, a collaboration with Corinne Bailey Ray. A track where ‘fighting like a girl’ carries significant menace.
(Also download from the album: Queen, Smoke, Dancefloor)
Song: Soul No. 5
From album: Loner
While Tracey Thorn delivers us a slice of subtle feminism, Caroline Rose’s variety is more like a baseball bat to the face. Her songs could easily be mistaken for cheesy dance-pop anthems, that is until you dig a little deeper. A track like Bikini sounds like teen-dream kitsch, before you realise that it’s really a rant about young girls being exploited via the promise of a ticket to b-grade fame (plus a worldwide trip of course). Shifting her previous country-style delivery to this whacked-out maximalist form seemed like an odd choice on paper. But somehow the juxtaposition of tune vs lyric works to boost the message. Her visual image has also been given the reboot treatment. Seemingly perma-clad in bright red trackwear, together with an endless array of spaced-out facial expressions, her look marries the dismissive attitude to a tee. Just peek at her smoking about 30 cigarettes at once on the album cover for example. Single Soul No. 5 is a cracker. Rapid-fire spoken lyrics in the verses give way to a gloriously sung chorus. Basic message: garish big brand fashion does not equal soul.
(Also download from the album: Bikini, More Of The Same, Cry!)
Albert Hammond Jr.
Song: Tea For Two
From album: Francis Trouble
The Strokes were hailed as the saviours of rock music in the early 2000s. Frankly, nobody could live up to such hype. Sure, these five New Yorkers produced some pretty terrific music, but ultimately the over-exposure, the pressure of always presenting a cool image, the natty clothes and attendant drug use overwhelmed them. Albert Hammond Jr. is the band’s rhythm guitarist and has also found the time to produce four brilliantly consistent solo albums. Indeed, when measured against Strokes lead singer Julian Casablancas’ solo output, it becomes pretty clear who the mainstay of the band really is. Having dragged himself out of the drug-muck, he’s back with another offering. As good as anything he’s ever done, Francis Trouble is again a very worthwhile outing. It’s as good as a collection of singles, so choosing a standout track is tricky. Tea For Two probably just edges it. And, as if all this coolness wasn’t enough, Hammond Jr. is the son of an Argentinian supermodel and this cool guy.
(Also download from the album: Far Away Truths, Muted Beatings, Rocky’s Late Night)
Song: Everybody Wants To Be Famous
From album: Superorganism
Q: How many people are required to assemble the modern band?
A: In the case of London’s Superorganism, 8 (and still growing!)
And then, how to co-ordinate such a multi-limbed machine?
Having brought members in from all over the world, co-habiting in a house seemed the best bet. It was there that they began writing and producing the tracks that would become their self-titled debut album. As expected, this all translates into an eclectic mix of styles, instruments, and found sounds, but it’s something thoroughly of its time. It could have been a mess, but 17-year old Orono Noguchi from Japan holds it all together. Her clear voice glides over the mayhem, delivering a collection of great pop songs. Her stock-in-trade is singing in a lazy, half-bored style. This proves a perfect match for the modern-life-is-pretty-crappy message on songs like Everybody Wants To Be Famous.
(Also download from the album: Nobody Cares, Something For Your M.I.N.D., Night Time)
Song: In My View
From album: Cocoa Sugar
Young Fathers are a three-piece band hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, although you would never say it to look at them. With a lead singer born in Liberia and a Nigerian rapper, they are joined by a lone Scot at the back producing the beats. A wonderfully heady mix of both ultra-cool and super-weird is the result. In My View is the lead single from the band’s latest album and is firmly of the former variety. All deep bass and silky smooth vocals, it’s something to put on after a very late night out. Cocoa Sugar is the band’s third album and their most accessible to date. In no way fitting into the ‘normal’ category however, the album is crammed with oddities like near-gospel numbers and half-formed tracks with spidery synths and spoke-grunted lyrics. With their debut album winning the prestigious Mercury Prize, the band has enjoyed significant critical acclaim thus far. This may be the one that brings them closer to commercial success as well.
(Also download from the album: Toy, Turn, See How)
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80
Song: African Dreams
From album: Black Times
On the topic of West Africa, a special bonus review this month: Afrobeat is a style of music that originated out of Nigeria in the 1970s. Best described as a fusion of jazz, reggae and township rhythms. Fela Kuti was its pioneer and best-known proponent. He was also a protest musician in the truest possible sense: having been jailed more than 200 times and with numerous homes and recording studios destroyed by Nigerian government authorities as retribution for his outspoken commentary on corruption in the country and Africa in general. After his death in 1997, his sons Femi and Seun Kuti have continued his legacy. Youngest son Seun (short for Oluseun) in particular has taken up the mantle and, at age 14, took over the leadership of his father’s backing band, Egypt 80. Black Times is his 4th album, and the Kuti family history of berating authorities remains firmly intact. While cutting down on his father’s tendency to release 15-minute plus songs, he still only manages to pack in 8 tracks in an hour. On the ten minute African Dreams, he broadens the horizon of his discontent to incorporate the Americanisation of Africa’s youth.
(Also download from the album: Last Revolutionary, Corporate Public Control Department)
In case you missed it…
Song: Iceblink Luck
From album: Heaven Or Las Vegas (from 1990)
From the evocative title through to the gorgeous artwork, Heaven Or Las Vegas was the pinnacle of the Cocteau Twins’ career. Indeed, it’s also quite possibly the high point of the whole dreampop movement. This was the band’s 7th album and by far their greatest achievement. Liz Fraser’s lyrics remain unintelligible (yes she is singing in English), but somehow she evokes some indescribable emotion in the listener. Maybe it was the birth of her first child. Maybe it was the ongoing struggle of husband and band guitarist Robin Guthrie to kick a heavy cocaine addiction. Or maybe it came from a desire to produce something that would appeal to a new Stateside audience. Whatever the reason, something just clicked into place. Nothing can ever be perfect of course, but Heaven Or Las Vegas represents just about the best of what humans are capable of in the production of creative popular music. Lush, soaring melodies, transportive and beautiful imagery. Iceblink Luck was the lead single from the album. Another strange title that on close scrutiny means nothing but yet feels sad. Upbeat, but yet melancholy, and with that otherworldly minor chord that kicks in just prior to the chorus. And what about the lyrics of that chorus: ‘you’re the match of Jericho that will burn this whole madhouse down’? Nothing else in the genre came close.
(Also download from the album: Heaven Or Las Vegas, Cherry-Coloured Funk, Fifty-Fifty Clown)
LISTEN TO OUR PLAYLIST
You can listen to previews of each track by clicking on the icons next to the song titles below.
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