COMING two years after the release of Hot Chip’s fifth album In Our Heads, this second record from one of the band’s main movers, Alexis Taylor, is the latest in a long line of solo releases from the group (see also Joe Goddard’s 2 Bears side-project).
Alexis Taylor: Await Barbarians
Star rating: ****
The follow-up to 2008’s Rubbed Out, it’s also a great record, although the wearily mature and largely analogue aesthetic positions it far from the tree of Hot Chip’s usual offbeat disco-pop style.
Where similarities exist, they’re in Taylor’s warmly familiar vocal and in his willingness to explore odd and distinctive new sounds. The record begins in ear-catchingly curious style with Lazy Bones, an instrumental piano piece which uses an odd buzzing effect to vaguely unsettle, before From The Halfway Line sets the tone for the rest of the album: plaintive electric guitar signatures, with Taylor mournfully mulling over his dreams and the degree to which others understand him.
There are traces of Harvest-era Neil Young in the harmonica-led Without A Crutch and Brian Eno in the synth-heavy murmur Immune System, and despite Hot Chip’s reputation for futurism, this is somehow a distinctly old-fashioned record – largely in the way it eschews cheap pop hooks to build a more measured, reflective tone whose primary concerns seem to be love and ageing.
“The older I get, the younger I seem to be… the closer I feel to the elderly,” Taylor croons on the majestic if understated synth loop Closer To The Elderly, and there’s a similar sense of upbeat resignation in Elvis Has Left The Building, New Hours and Where Would I Be? Each of these songs washes gently along on minimal instrumental backing and often just a single sustained chord. To hear a record which builds such rich mood and character in so unshowy a fashion these days is a rare treat. David Pollock
Download: Closer To The Elderly, New Hours
Klaxons: Love Frequency
Akashic Records/Sony Red
Star rating: ***
The problem with grabbing the zeitgeist as firmly and decisively as self-christened “new rave” outfit Klaxons did a few years ago is that times pass you by even sooner. Myths Of The Near Future made a big splash in 2007, Surfing The Void was an anaemic 2010 follow-up and this record, despite some obvious charms, fails to make much impact even as it stabilises the band’s fortunes. In fairness, their sound has been updated to a more contemporary brand of sun-kissed, Ibiza-friendly electronic pop, and there’s much to enjoy in the light, bubbly comeback single There Is No Time or the title track. Yet an aesthetic dealing in radio-friendliness and platitudes about “Children of the sun” will struggle to find real bite. David Pollock
Download: Invisible Forces, Liquid Light
The Pictish Trail: Secret Soundz Vol 1&2
Star rating: *****
A diptych five years in the making, this collection sees the Eigg-based Johnny “Pictish Trail” Lynch, left (formerly of the much-loved Fence Records, now striking out on his own with Lost Map) bring together the 2008 and 2013 volumes of his Secret Soundz project in one re-release. Hearing them one after the other illustrates how long his great talent has been slow-burning: the first, a wintery epic characterised by Lynch’s spectral but human vocal; the second, an expansive nocturnal listen breathing under a contemporary electronic sheen. Both are densely produced and intensely rewarding. DP
Download: Winter Home Disco, Wait Until
Antonio Salieri: Ouvertures, Scherzi, Divertimenti
Tactus TB 751903
Star rating: ****
Although one of music’s villains, and a murderous one according to Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus, Antonio Salieri was central to the development of opera as music-drama in the late 18th century, both as a protégé of Glück, whose works comprise the earliest operas, and as director of Italian opera at the Viennese court for almost 20 years. Salieri’s operas were heard throughout Europe, and have recently started to be revived – deservedly so, judging by the works heard on this lively recording by Paolo Pollastri with the Quartetto Amati. All the works are brief, the longest being the Overture from Salieri’s ballet Les Danaïdes, but they give a taste of the obvious skills of the man who taught Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt, even if, for a decade, he was outshone by the precocious Mozart. Worth hearing. Alexander Bryce
Download: Ouverture Prima
Caterina Zapponi: Romantica
Motema Music/Membran 233851
Star rating: ***
Italian-French singer Caterina Zapponi celebrates her musical heritage in the company of such A-list jazz musicians as pianist Monty Alexander (her husband) and guitarists extraordinaires Frank Vignola and Bucky Pizzarelli – and the result is a very personal album. Zapponi has a gorgeous, rich voice and swinging style and is at her most appealing on the French numbers included here – notably the jaunty J’ai Ta Main and the standout Que Reste-t-il De Nos Amours – but a couple of the unjazzy Italian numbers disrupt the flow and spoil the mood. Alison Kerr
Download: Que Reste-t-il De Nos Amours
Hafdis Huld: Home
Reveal Records REVEAL031CDX
Star rating: ****
Born to perform, the Icelandic singer/actress finally left the front of her world-touring band/collective Gus Gus and graduated from London’s College of Contemporary Music in 2006. Now settled with her partner and child outside Reykjavik, she has written, co-written and recorded this beguiling collection of songs, all with simple, straightforward lyricism, and set within lovely acoustic guitar, piano and ukulele harmonies. Her gentle, folksy melodies are heart-melting. Norman Chalmers
Download: Never Needed You