Album reviews: Björk | Mark Ronson | Sleater-Kinney

Singer Bj�rk. Picture: Contributed

Singer Bj�rk. Picture: Contributed

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SCOTLAND on Sunday’s music critics cast their ears on the latest album releases, including new records from Björk, Mark Ronson and Sleater-Kinney

Björk

Vulnicura

One Little Indian

Star rating: * * * *

With this, her eighth studio album in a career spanning more than two decades, Icelandic singer and producer Björk has joined in with the recent internet-enabled vogue for rush-releasing new work when the public aren’t looking. After Vulnicura was leaked online last weekend, the record was hurried on to iTunes ahead of its intended March release, yet there’s nothing rushed about the music here.

Björk is less known now for quirky 90s pop songs like It’s Oh So Quiet and more as an esoteric auteur in her own right, a singer whose work is bedded both in her own off-beam production skills and in collaboration with original artists. Vulnicura (the title is apparently a hybrid of the Latin words vulnus, meaning a wound, and cura, meaning to heal) follows this tradition, being largely self-produced alongside Kanye West and FKA Twigs collaborator Arca, with additional work from English electronic artist The Haxan Cloak.

The result is beautiful and affecting. As ever, Björk’s voice is an instrument in itself, standing proudly amid the blend of electronic hiss and pop and synthetic symphonics which permeate the record, the meaning of the words never transcending their drawn-out, breathy sound (“show me emotional respect... I have emotional needs,” she croons on the opening Stonemilker).

History Of Touches is a gorgeous electro-acoustic ballad reminiscent of an avant-garde Chvrches, as is the punchy Quicksand. Black Lake pulls together folk and bass music with understated power, and Family features a dramatic synth and cello face-off midway through, while Antony Hegarty makes the perfect duet partner on Atom Dance.

It’s pretty far from pop, but in relying on the songs and a sheen of futurist production in equal measure this could be the record which unites those who have loved Björk at each divergent stage of her career. 
David Pollock

Download: Stonemilker, Quicksand

POP

Mark Ronson

Uptown Special

Columbia

Star rating: * * * *

It’s hard not to detect a note of cynicism in this latest self-powered foray by Mark Ronson, London singer, musician and sometime producer to stars including Adele and Amy Winehouse. Clearly chasing the same dollar as Pharrell Williams did with Happy and Get Lucky, it’s a record which unashamedly cribs from the funk era of the 1970s and the smooth synthesised soul sound of the decade after. It does it very well, however, and with a keen ear for a great pop tune, from the reverb-heavy reggae-meets-the-Beach-Boys collision of Summer Breaking and the brassy, Mystikal-featuring Feel Right, to the big hit Uptown Funk’s lithe sophisti-funk and the spacey George Harrison vibe which penetrates towards the end. Endorsed twice by the guest presence of Stevie Wonder, it’s easy to criticise but hard to dislike. DP

Download: Uptown Funk, In Case Of Fire

Sleater-Kinney

No Cities To Love

Sub Pop

Star rating: * * * *

Nearly a decade into a self-imposed exile, which was just long enough to earn this album the “comeback” description, Washington fem-rock trio Sleater-Kinney return with a record which is a burst of affirmative pop action from start to finish. Across its ten songs it continues at breakneck pace, at no point deviating from a reliance on the traditional analogue punk band set-up – and it sounds great. “We win / we lose /

only together do we make the rules,” hollers Corin Tucker through Surface Envy, typifying a confident, questioning ethos which sees them rail against capitalism on Price Tag and the vagaries of musical fashion on the soaring A New Wave. DP

Download: Surface Envy, A New Wave

JAZZ

Kenny Wheeler

Songs For Quintet

ECM

Star rating: * * * *

Kenny Wheeler, the revered Canadian jazz composer, trumpeter and flugelhornist, died last September aged 84. This swansong album was recorded at Abbey Road studios with four of his longtime collaborators: tenor saxophonist Stan Sulzmann, guitarist John Parricelli, double bassist Chris Laurence and drummer Martin France. While Wheeler’s ill health is obvious from the photos in the accompanying booklet, his improvisational flurries and melodic imaginings are as tender and delicate as ever. There’s both chaos and calm in the lovely Jigsaw, and in the way Wheeler’s flugelhorn soars over the crashing drums and swirling electric guitar chords of 1076. There’s optimism, too, in Wheeler’s beloved waltzes: Pretty Liddle Waltz is imbued with a sort of languid joy. Jane Cornwell

Download: Jigsaw

FOLK

Linsey Aitken and Ken Campbell

Kith And Kin

Bridgegate Music BMCD006

Star rating: * * * *

The Scots twosome make fine music with their voices, underscored by her cello and his picked strings, in a dense production. The mood remains warm and reflective throughout, even where they shake up Wild Rover to offer a different perspective. Scots songs, some modified from tradition, most written by themselves, are polished in the studio with five added musicians, but the expressive dynamic always stays with the two singers, and that lovely cello. Norman Chalmers

Download: Ring of Aber/Far Away Waltz

CLASSICAL

Johann Sebastian Bach

Goldberg Variations On Guitar

Dynamic

Star rating: * * * * *

When JS Bach wanted to practise, he went to the kitchen, where his clavichord was kept (possibly because it would always be the warmest room in the house). Bach preferred the clavichord to the harpsichord and fortepiano – according to his son, he found it “easier to express his more delicate feelings” on the instrument. Italian guitarist Marco Salcito has taken a similar approach to his three-year task of transcribing Bach’s Goldberg Variations for guitar, aiming to create an intimate, domestic sound. The result is a varied, rounded performance that respects Bach’s mathematical precision in constructing this multi-part work without making the whole thing sound over-formal and metronomic. Well worth hearing. Alexander Bryce

Download: CD 1, Track 1, Aria

INTRODUCING: M.O.T.O.

Anyone who thinks Edinburgh is snowed under with folk and indie bands would do well to sample the music of electro artist M.O.T.O., aka Kwasu Tembo. Touching on the subtle grooves of Flying Lotus or Shlohmo, Tembo’s new EP M is as mind-bending as it is soothing; there’s an atmosphere of irresistibly cool, elegant mystery quite unlike anything else being produced round these parts.

Tembo collaborates with fellow MOONMLK Collective artist Swallows Fly Low under the name Dominguez-Shimata, and is now working on another solo EP, Shaman.

Listen to M.O.T.O. at soundcloud.com/masteroftheordinance, and Dominguez-Shimata at soundcloud.com/dominguez-shimata. You can find out more about MOONMLK at moonmlk.tumblr.com.

Hamsh Gibson

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