Album reviews: Bat For Lashes | Metronomy | The Grand Gestures

Bat For Lashes
Bat For Lashes
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A far from perfect day provides Bat for Lashes with the concept for a blissfully original and intense album

Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes, strums her omnichord sweetly and sings with purity and optimism that “tomorrow you will ask me if I do, and all the sorrow will drop away like dew”. Is this her unexpected bid to be added to the first wedding dance canon? And, if not, what’s the catch?

It transpires that death did them part. The Bride (****) is a captivating yet unsettling concept album about a bride-to-be bereaved on her wedding day who flees the scene and heads out on her honeymoon alone to grieve. Like all of Khan’s previous work, it is a happy marriage of the beautiful and the bonkers, which has already been performed as a piece of gothic theatre in a number of church venues, with fans asked to dress as if for a wedding, and Khan walking herself down the aisle before throwing her bouquet.

Even without the visuals, it’s an immersive trip, from the breathy, cooing vulnerability of Joe’s Dream (“what does it mean, the bad things I’ve seen?”) through the altar anxieties of In God’s House, manifested as delicate synth arpeggios over a foreboding electro throb, to the outright wedding march of doom that is Never Forgive The Angels and the wilting strings and delicately picked guitar of Land’s End.

The somewhat hokey spoken word of Widow’s Peak evokes Wuthering Heights in its haunting lyrics and the bare piano and plangent bassline of If I Knew is pure Kate Bush, while the sensual and rapturous In Your Bed recalls Christine McVie’s liberated love songs for Fleetwood Mac.

The Bride is neither feminist fable nor romantic melodrama but alludes to aspects of both, creating an eerie, intoxicating alchemy also to be found in the work of Laura Marling and especially in PJ Harvey’s ethereal, elemental White Chalk. But although Khan’s roots are showing, The Bride assuredly goes its own way.

Metronomy mainman Joe Mount has been trying to release an album called 2008 since that very year but presumably got distracted in the making of the acclaimed English Riviera and Love Letters albums instead. Summer 08 (****) is another impressive, cohesive, stylised collection, intended as a feelgood soundtrack to summer barbecues, block parties or whatever.

The post-punk percussion, disco funk bassline, jagged guitar and retro synths of Back Together emulate the sounds coming out of New York 35 years ago (and 15 years ago for that matter), while early hip-hop influences are explored explicitly on Old Skool. The sonic palette is so infectious that even the soused slow jam Mick Slow and psych electro funk slowburn Summer Jam transcend their filler status to emerge as appetising ear candy which should appeal to fans of Daft Punk and Mark Ronson’s adventures in retro electro.

The Grand Gestures have already exited the stage, playing their last ever gig in May so this remix album (***) is a requiem of sorts for Jan Burnett’s loose musicians’ co-operative. Many of the tracks receive moody reworkings which are at least as engaging as the originals. There is a beautiful languor to The World Will Break Your Heart, sung by Danny Wilson frontman Gary Clark, while his contemporary Grahame Skinner, formerly of Hipsway, also supplies some warm Caledonian crooning, while Emma Pollock sighs ruefully on Running With Scissors. Jill O’Sullivan’s rich voice becomes a wraith-like echo through the fuzzy Deer In A Crosshair and Andrew Mitchell of The Hazey Janes remixes himself on the distorted drone of In To The Darkness We Go. Fiona Shepherd

CLASSICAL: John Kitchen: Gaudeamus Igitur | Rating: **** | Delphian

Anyone who has sat through a graduation ceremony at Edinburgh University will have experienced the thrilling sound of John Kitchen and the ceremonial repertoire he plays at these occasions on the McEwan Hall organ. But here these sounds are noticeably sizzling and significantly brighter, no doubt the result of the organ’s recent refurbishment. Kitchen demonstrates its newfound brilliance in music by Handel (the spirited Overture and March from his Ode to St Cecilia’s Day) and Purcell, complemented by the juicy Frenchness of Widor, Guilmant, Théodore Salomé and other grandiose numbers, including a straight version of Gaudeamus Igitur to set the regal tone.

Kitchen also applies his gutsy musicality to Kenneth Leighton’s trenchant Et resurrexit, Cecilia McDowall’s Leightonesque Celebration, and Alfred Hollins’ stirringly sentimental Concert Overture in C. Ken Walton

JAZZ: Brad Mehldau Trio: Blues and Ballads | Rating: ***** | Nonesuch

Pianist Brad Mehldau, with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, rearranges blues, jazz and pop standards with a delightful ease. The slow blues of Buddy Johnson’s Since I Fell for You eases us in with graceful languor, Mehldau unhurriedly picking out judicious phrases and boogie rolls, but also steering the tune towards a luscious coda that hangs somewhere between Debussy and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Cole Porter’s I Concentrate on You breaks out of its refined sashay into increasingly urgent flurries, while Charlie Parker’s bluesy Cheryl steps out with a sinewy swagger.

Other highlights are a Lennon and McCartney song and one of McCartney’s own – My Valentine – given a dark yet tender blues treatment, ushered along by Ballard, while the winsome Beatles number And I Love Her is part-deconstructed, reshuffled then restored with panache and palpable affection.

Jim Gilchrist