Album reviews: Bjork | The Charlatans | Carlou D

Bjork. Picture: Contributed
Bjork. Picture: Contributed
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OUR writers review the week’s top album releases

BJÖRK: VULNICURA

ONE LITTLE INDIAN

Star rating: ***

Björk is the latest major artist to fall foul of premature album leakage – in her case, just days after announcing Vulnicura’s March release by handwritten note on her website – and to respond with the speedy release of said album.

Following the experimental, elemental electronica of her 2011 app album Biophilia – about atoms, the universe and everything – she falls back to Earth with what she describes as “a complete heartbreak album”, referring to her split from her longterm partner, artist Matthew Barney, which she charts chronologically through the album with tracks tagged “before” and “after”.

Björk has described the process of making Vulnicura – a composite of “vulnerability” and “cure” – as performing surgery on herself, and she appears on the cover art exposing her innards. But in dealing candidly with the viscera of relationship breakdown, she also appears to heal herself, working through the stages of grief.

The lyrics comprise relatively direct dear-diary reflections and allusions – what Björk thinks of as “more of a traditional singer/songwriter thing.” But she’s not talking acoustic guitars and coffee house confessionals. Instead, her distinctive, instinctive melodic soaring and swooping is backed by her own string arrangements and/or avant-garde beats supplied by her Venezuelan co-producer Arca.

The journey begins “nine months before” with Stonemilker’s we-need-to-talk recognition that “we have emotional needs”, then works through the layered choral vocoder parts and woozy strings of Lionsong with hopes still alive but twitching and the sad, explicit inventory of History of Touches to reach rock bottom at Black Lake – a frank ten minute relationship post-mortem, her vulnerable vocals backed by slightly unsettling strings and an irregular, throbbing pulse.

There are harsh words for Barney – “family was always our sacred mutual mission which you abandoned” – setting the disquieting tone for the next few tracks, such as the squeaky oriental string sounds of Notget and the tribal rhythmic lashes and disturbing stabs of cello on Family.

A degree of harmony is restored, both musically and lyrically (“I am dancing towards transformation”), on Atom Dance, when her old pal Antony Hegarty shows up for company, his vocals cut up and layered but still recognisable, before she eventually crosses the glitchy finish line as the same old unconventional Björk, sounding like herself and no one else.

POP

Dominic Waxing Lyrical: Woodland Casual

Tenement

Star rating: ****

Edinburgh musician Dominic Harris follows up his debut album after a mere 18 years and it’s as if Britpop (or any other subsequent musical movement) never happened. Instead, the reassuringly rough, distinctive and DIY Woodland Casual, recorded with a backing band including Riley and Murray Briggs of Aberfeldy (the band, not the place), harks back to noble oddbods such as Magazine, Genesis and The Cardiacs with its folk-punk jerkiness, unpredictable time signatures, cabaret flourishes and Harris’s declamatory, sung-spoken delivery of his droll poetical lyrics. A tonic of an album for those who fret that everything sounds the same.

FIONA SHEPHERD

The Charlatans: Modern Nature

BMG

Star rating: ****

The Charlatans’ 12th album is dedicated to their late drummer Jon Brookes, who succumbed to a brain tumour in 2013, and it’s a lovely, mellow valediction, featuring his final drum parts and guest contributions from New Order’s Stephen Morris and The Verve’s Pete Salisbury. Tim Burgess, who practically patented the nasal indie boy vocal style, has never sounded better, his newly northern soulful tone embellished by sweet, sweeping strings on Keep Enough and The Charlatans’ trademark sultry organ sound on In The Tall Grass and Let The Good Times Be Never Ending. The only negative is that Brookes is not around to witness the subtle, dignified maturation of his band.

CLASSICAL

Hideko Udagawa: Baroque Inspirations

Nimbus Alliance

Star rating: ****

There is something very uncomfortable about Hideko Udagawa’s violin playing throughout this uneven disc. It’s almost exclusively to do with her intonation, which, in just about every track from Tartini’s Devil’s Trill Sonata (played here without traditional continuo accompaniment) to Karl Stamitz’s Violin Concerto in B flat strays frustratingly off the centre of the note. Not even the exemplary playing of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Nicholas Kraemer can salvage what is predominantly a fulsome, old-fashioned style of performance by Udagawa.

KEN WALTON

FOLK

CATRIONA MCKAY, CHRIS STOUT & SEAMUS BEGLEY: BEGLEY MCKAY STOUT

MCKAY STOUT MUSIC

Star rating: ****

This album stemmed from a tour by the fine Scottish harp and fiddle partnership of Catriona McKay and Chris Stout with the esteemed Kerry button accordionist and singer Seamus Begley. There’s a sense of cheerful musical colloquy about the recording, giving the feel of an inspired informal session, although there’s also a certain sense of restraint which, one suspects, wouldn’t have been present at their live performances. Some of best moments come with the songs, Begley’s mellifluously Irishised rendition of Burns’s Annan Water over sumptuous harp and viola accompaniment, Stout’s viola sounding with grainy eloquence behind Begley in an old Irish favourite, Summer is Coming, or Irish lyrics shifting intriguingly into Shetlandese as Begley and Stout intersperse verses in Rowin’ Foula Doon.

Fiddle, harp and box dance together nicely in a sprightly pairing of O’Carolan planxties – Peggy Morton and Madame Maxwell and McKay’s harp leads off a similarly skittish pair of hornpipes.

JIM GILCHRIST

JAZZ

Alex Garnett’s Bunch of 5: Andromeda

Whirlwind Recordings

Star rating: ****

The twin tenor date has long been a familiar staple in the jazz saxophone canon, but this particular Anglo-American pairing extend their explorations considerably beyond the traditional blowing session. The English leader is joined by American saxophonist Tim Armacost, and both are ably supported by a fine London-based rhythm section comprising pianist Liam Noble, bassist (and Whirlwind founder) Michael Janisch, and drummer James Maddren. Both saxophonists make strong and inventive contributions to the music, whether soloing, trading phrases or entwined in counterpoint. The disc is made up of six attractive compositions by Garnett, characteristically rooted in hard bop and groove, and a couple of covers, a captivating take on Early Autumn (Garnett acknowledges he has a bit of a fixation with the famous version by Stan Getz) and Irving Berlin’s I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.

KENNY MATHIESON

WORLD

Carlou D: A New Day

World Village

Star rating: ****

Not many singers have a vocal range as wide as the Senegalese star Carlou D, and on this new CD he employs it to electrifying effect. Born in Dakar in 1979, he grew up under the musical eye of his father, who initiated him into the musics which were flooding in from abroad at that exciting post-colonial time. For this CD, Carlou has assembled an impressive group of co-stars – guitarist Tisiano Bole, drummer Abdoulaye Lo, bassist Andreas Unge, and the Swedish pianist and composer Jesper Nordenström. Acoustic instrumentation gives this music bite and immediacy.

MICHAEL CHURCH