KENNY “King Creosote” Anderson is wary of the C-word. But his latest and arguably most ambitious album to date is part of a Commonwealth commission, soundtracking a documentary of the same name by New Zealand film-maker Virginia Heath.
King Creosote: From Scotland With Love
Star rating: * * * *
From Scotland With Love sensitively splices archive Scottish film footage spanning the 20th century, from strikes in the 1910s to full colour seaside frolics from the 1960s and 1970s, with Anderson’s effortlessly evocative music providing the imaginative narrative.
The film has already screened to acclaim on BBC2 and will be shown again at a Commonwealth Games event on 31 July with live accompaniment from King Creosote and his band. But even divested of the moving visuals, From Scotland With Love is as great a King Creosote album as you could wish for, a suitably diverse response to a sophisticated culture.
Anderson, inset, answers the challenge of capturing a nation’s identity with a series of intimate character snapshots.
Cargill was inspired by footage of fishwives and written from their perspective (“I’m the finest catch that you’ll land”). Bluebell, Cockleshell, 123 kicks off with a children’s playground song and proceeds with handclaps and rhythmic acoustic guitar.
For One Night Only, cut to footage of Scots out on the randan, is another strongly rhythmic piece, with string flourishes over the Krautrock-influenced bass and keyboard lines and Anderson’s chanted vocals.
By his own admission, Anderson walks towards the darkness and writes about the pain behind the smiles.
So while the skiffly, skittering Largs fires off the blocks like a playful puppy, its impish sound, including jazzy woodwind breakdown, contrasts with the dark mischief of the lyrics – a first person account of a family man contemplating an illicit holiday romance.
Miserable Strangers, which is partnered in the film with footage of emigrants, pivots on a classic hangdog King Creosote sentiment – “I was hoping I might just get by” – which is taken up by a choir of backing singers yet still retains an intimacy at the heart of the performance.
The choir returns on Pauper’s Dough, issuing an uplifting rallying cry – “you’ve got to rise above the gutter you are inside” – which accompanies the strike footage in the film and suggests that Anderson is more than able to reach beyond his more habitual diet of melancholy and self-deprecation to write a song which could be sung from the rafters. FIONA SHEPHERD
Star rating: * * * *
Now that their sultry debut album has landed, it’s not hard to hear why mysterious London duo Jungle – outed as Shepherd’s Bush boys Tom McFarland and Joshua Lloyd-Watson – have stoked so much anticipation for their smooth, psychedelic falsetto soul funk, a sound quite distinct from their bish-bash-bosh dubstep peers, which draws instead on the inner city blues of Curtis Mayfield, indie existentialism of Bon Iver and the deliciously downbeat parts of Prince’s catalogue.
The multi-tracked unison vocals are their exquisite signature – well, it worked for Chic – whether applied to the chillout R&B of Drops, slinky 1980s disco of Time or the far from triumphalist Lucky I Got What I Want. Jungle have delivered the sound of this summer and for some time to come. FS
La Roux: Trouble In Paradise
Star rating: * * *
In the five years since her debut as La Roux, Elly Jackson has battled anxiety with her new-found fame, temporarily lost her voice and split from her musical partner Ben Langmaid, who co-wrote half of this follow-up album.
Presumably as a consequence, she has marginally dropped the key and also the tempo of her songs.
There is still a shrill soul strain to her singing, but the overall picture is less chipmunk disco than previously.
Trouble In Paradise is a meticulously produced collection of retro-fitted synth pop with its reference points in the 1980s, from the processed saxophone on the beseeching Let Me Down Gently to the motorik AOR drive of Silent Partner plus a splash of digitised reggae on Tropical Chancer. FS
Betty & The Boy: The Wreckage
Star rating: * * * *
The Oregon-based husband and wife singer-songwriter duo of Josh Harvey and Bettreena Jaeger are joined by a tight string trio to produce a category-defying but frequently beguiling album which traipses with engaging quirkiness through courtly measures, minimalist riffing and hard-travelling bluegrass fiddle and mandolin.
Jaeger’s sometimes mercurially tremulous vocals contrast with Harvey’s more direct holler, together working up some keen harmonies. The strings frame the bar-room lament of The Waltz in a quaintly classical figure, becoming markedly rootsier in Silos and Smokestacks and In the Devil’s Hands, with its insistent fiddle and cello hook.
There are echoes of Philip Glass in the ominous riff of Poppies, which Jaeger delivers with tremulous passion, contrasting with the droll cowboy jog-along of the subsequent Hare in a Hollow Hole.
Other material, such as the dramatically funereal September the Eighth with its weeping strings and distant drums, and To Sleep Alone, with Jaeger’s yearning vocals couched in strumming mandolin and sighing strings, are immediately engaging. JIM GILCHRIST
Black Top: # ONE
Star rating; * * * *
Vibes player (and now multi-instrumentalist) Orphy Robinson and saxophonist Steve Williamson first emerged to notice in the so-called British jazz boom of the late 1980s, and have been on and off my radar in more recent times.
The saxophonist joins the Black Top duo, Robinson and pianist Pat Thomas, as a special guest on their debut recording.
Black Top specialise in a constantly shifting combination of free improvisation and electronics, exploring “the intersection between live instruments and lo-fi technology” through stitching a wide range of loops, samples and dub-effects into the instrumental mix.
Williamson slips readily into their mind-set in the course of the three pieces which make up the album.
The serpentine twists of the music and constantly transforming soundscape are fascinating, but if you remember these guys as neo-boppers, then be prepared for a paradigm shift. KENNY MATHIESON
Djivan Gasparyan: I will not be sad in this world/Moon shines at night
All Saints Records
Star rating; * * * * *
The duduk is a simple oboe carved from apricot wood whose origins go back thousands of years, and its cylindrical body gives it a uniquely mellow and mournful sound.
It has become the symbol of Armenia’s historic suffering, and its global popularity is almost entirely due to the work of its greatest living exponent, Djivan Gasparyan, now 85 but still performing. These two CDs – one from 1983, the other from 1993 – reflect the dreamlike beauty of his art, which consists of a single sustained melodic line over a caressing drone. MICHAEL CHURCH