Album reviews: Biffy Clyro | Martin Creed | The Julie Ruin

Biffy Clyro. Picture: Austin Hargrave
Biffy Clyro. Picture: Austin Hargrave
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Biffy Clyro strip out the sweeping strings of recent releases to reassert a rougher edge, but still make room for some radio friendly fare

Last album round, Biffy Clyro cemented their status as Scotland’s biggest rock band with a suitably mighty double offering, Opposites, on which they worked through some band issues. Following a year off, they have consolidated and returned with the “pint-in-the-face rock” of seventh album Ellipsis (***), with the group suggesting that it is something of a return to their spikier roots after a trio of “big boy albums”.

Ellipsis is certainly more economical than its predecessor. Working with noted alt rock producer Rich Costey in Los Angeles, they have divested the music of the sweeping string arrangements of previous work to create a collection which is musically meaner and lyrically angrier – in places.

The pulverizing Wolves Of Winter, with its Game of Thrones imagery, jagged pop interludes, soaring, chest-beating chorus and some old school hard rock riffage to round things off is a prime example of Biffy’s practise of cramming multiple ideas into one track. Hear also the prog rock rhythms and punk grit they apply to complaint rocker Animal Style or the chunky guitar riffs and caustic lyrics (“you were not right, you were just righteous, with a friend as good as you, who needs enemies?”) which rough up the radio-friendly tune on Friends And Enemies.

The headlong On A Bang, debuted at their Edinburgh Hogmanay show, is Biffy at their most rapid-fire and pugnacious, with singer Simon Neil raging at his unspecified target: “now you know better, why can’t you f***ing do better – what is your contribution, where is it in your soul?”

The presence of pop ballad Re-arrange and the mid-paced Medicine show off the band’s softer, more mainstream side which was co-opted by The X Factor a few years back, but Inflammable is a stronger example of their commercial instinct.

Neil also deploys incendiary imagery on Howl but the most surprising diversion is a country number – of sorts – called Small Wishes which obliquely admonishes “don’t believe the lamb, believe the wolf”. Otherwise, Ellipsis is a pot pourri of trademark Biffy styles, drawn from across their admirably broad sonic spectrum.

Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed makes music at the other end of the budgetary and production range to Biffy’s streamlined arena rock, recording his latest album on one-inch tape in mono at London’s all-analogue Toerag Studios. As the title suggests, Thoughts Lined Up (***) delivers a succession of observational nuggets in the style of witty or twisted greeting card messages. Creed’s minimalist musings on everything from the perils of procrastination to the pester punk of Text Me Back are the aural equivalent of a David Shrigley cartoon, encompassing the playful and the political, using language which is accessible and (potentially) appealing to all, provided you can acclimatise to the toy orchestra aesthetic and Creed’s rather weedy, strangulated vocal.

There are further adventures in lo-fi spontaneity from The Julie Ruin, a New York five-piece fronted by riot grrrl heroine Kathleen Hanna, who has built a cult career on mixing melodic bubblegum punk with uncompromising feminist lyrics and a charismatic, confrontational stage presence.

Hanna has been dogged with ill health over the past decade but she comes off the ropes fighting on Hit Reset (****), channelling the unfettered spirit of X Ray Spex as she rips into fair-weather fans of gender politics on Mr So and So, before coming down to land with Calverton, a touching piano ballad paying tribute to the support of her husband Adam Horovitz, aka Beastie Boy Ad Rock. Fiona Shepherd

CLASSICAL: Carolyn Sampson: Come all ye Songsters | Rating: **** | Wigmore Live

There’s a school of continuo playing that goes way beyond stylised academic pursuit, and enlivens the role it plays as the rhythm and bass of the baroque world.

And it’s that sense of spontaneous combustion which lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, bass viol Jonathan Manson and harpsichordist Laurence Cummings bring to their backing of soprano Carolyn Sampson, and which in turn brings the Purcell arias in this live Wigmore Hall recording so vividly alive.

Sampson’s singing is equally fresh, responsive and emotive. There’s music from the key Purcell operas, the Fairy Queen and the Indian 
Queen, and other theatrical works, as well as instrumental music by such older contemporaries as Francesco Corbetta and Christopher Simpson.

All in all, this old music has been wonderfully ignited by a contemporary spark. Ken Walton

FOLK: Alastair Savage: Alone With History | Rating **** | Woodland Records

Anyone who has seen fiddler Alastair Savage’s solo shows will be in no doubt as to his love and respect for the music of the great Scots fiddle masters, the Gow family and James Scott Skinner. Here, unaccompanied in Crathie Kirk, he plays their tunes as well as his own tributes to them with panache, grace and affection.

His own compositions, such as the dignified stepping of his slow strathspey, The Publisher’s Tea, or his wintry air The Plaid Weaver’s Son, have the authentic ring of auld-farrant tunes. Others such as Your Light Will Shine On are brief but lovely homages. Niel Gow’s immortal Lament for the Death of his Second Wife hangs sublimely in the air and some of his idiosyncratic reels are given suitably skittish treatment, while Robert Burns (a Gow fan) and Scott Skinner, too, are well served, with Skinner’s Bonnie Lass o’ Bon Accord a showcase for Savage’s fine tone and sinuous delivery. Jim Gilchrist