Album reviews: Looper | Ela Orleans | Calexico

Looper. Picture: Contributed
Looper. Picture: Contributed
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THE Scotsman’s music critics review the latest music releases

ALBUM OF THE WEEK

Looper: These Things

Mute

***

&

Offgrid: Offline

Mute

****

Stuart David, writer and musician, has three novels under his belt but is arguably still best known for his years in Belle & Sebastian, the band he formed with Stuart Murdoch in the mid-1990s. One of the first in, he was also the first to leave this most idiosyncratic of groups in 2000, by which time he had already formed Looper, initially a lo-fi side project with his wife Karn, which developed into his full-time band over the next few years.

David documents his time in Belle & Sebastian in forthcoming memoir In The All-Night Café. These Things, meanwhile, is a musical overview of what happened next, gathering together Looper’s three albums, released between 1999 and 2002, plus EPs and tracks from a brand new album, Offgrid: Offline in one box set, with the songs grouped stylistically rather than chronologically across each of its five CDs, as though ­arranged as cohesive playlists. By David’s own classification, Melos features the most traditionally song-oriented material, including the pop culture whimsy of Cleo Laine, the gorgeous lullaby Quiet and Small, influenced by those tender ­Velvet Underground ballads, and The Snare with its 1960s TV theme ­arrangement.

Lexiphonics gathers David’s spoken word compositions, including the idle perambulations of The Spider Man, beatnik odyssey Columbo’s Car and tooth-rottingly twee love story Impossible Things, accompanied by the gentle click-clack of typewriter. Elsewhere, the evocative backing of Pale Blue E-Type draws you into the story being told, an approach since taken up to great acclaim by Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells.

The Kinokraft CD features a number of instrumental soundtracks and a couple of early Looper singles from the days David was experimenting with loops and samples to create characterful cut-and-paste pieces. The Voxtrot and Transmitte CDs are more beats-based but the likes of Driving Myself Crazy, a stealthy slice of indie R&B, is full of personality.

Scattered throughout the collection are tracks from new album Offgrid: Offline, which is being simultaneously released alongside reissues of the previous Looper albums, Up A Tree, The Geometrid and The Snare, for those who prefer to hear the work in its original context.

David has spent most of the past decade writing and studying, but the years between releases fall away as the whimsy returns in spades. Images of the Shipwreck and the title track are gentle spoken word tales about destinations, or the lack of, both mournfully accompanied by piano and strings, while the sultry I’m A Photograph muses on the subject of memory.

However, there is a certain sophistication to the sound now which can be heard in the persuasive pop of What If…?, beseeching indie gospel track Waiting for Trains and Oh Skinny Legs, a dramatic torch ballad wrapped in a lo-fi indie song, all up there among the best of David’s catalogue.

POP

Ela Orleans: Upper Hell

HB Recordings

****

Ela Orleans is a Polish-born, Glasgow-based artist who works

with voice, electronics and film, creating haunting, hypnotic synth pop shot through with a collected Euro cool. Upper Hell, her sixth solo album, represents a refinement of

her sound. Working with U2 and Bjork producer Howie B, she has stripped away her usual palette of analogue effects to expose the bones of her self-possessed yet searching torch songs. The murky, tolling spoken word track River Acheron and the foreboding instrumental City of Dis take inspiration from Dante’s Inferno, while the spectral gospel hum which underpins The Sky and the Ghost and the affecting fragility of Through Me possess a quiet, emotional power.

Calexico: Edge of the Sun

City Slang

***

Tucson-based

Tex-Mex enthusiasts Calexico – they’re named after the border town in California – travelled to Mexico City to make this CD, their first studio album since 2012’s Algiers. They took a few friends along for the ride, including Neko Case, Samuel Beam aka Iron & Wine, and Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell, but they actually wound up with fewer of their trademark mariachi inflections to show for the trip. The handful of Mexicana moments – Cumbia de Donde with its squelchy,

playful electronics, the romantic spaghetti western instrumental Coyoacán – stand out from the otherwise mellow or moody wash of Americana, though Beneath the City of Dreams achieves a wholly satisfying cross-border harmony. FIONA SHEPHERD

CLASSICAL

Sibelius: Symphonies 2 & 7

LINN: CKD 462

*****

Thomas Søndegârd is one of today’s leading Sibelius interpreters. The evidence is here in a pairing of the second and seventh symphonies that is compulsive

listening. The earlier piece has a radiance and inner glow that simply refuses to fade from the rich, gritty opening movement to the finale’s golden sunburst, by way of a pungently troubling andante and restive scherzo. Sibelius’s shorter final symphony is packed with seething, irrepressible drama, masterfully paced by Søndegârd. But it’s the tone quality throughout that marks this out as a must-have disc. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales treats every phrase, every nuance, every note with a passion that is palpable and truly heart-warming. KEN WALTON

FOLK

ALTAN: THE WIDENING GYRE

COMPASS RECORDS

****

After almost 35 years, Altan show no signs of flagging and on this album, its title taken from a line by the poet WB Yeats, they follow the migratory path of their Donegal musical heritage, recording in Nashville with an illustrious guest list. Almost inevitably with such projects, occasionally one wonders whether the sum really equals the distinguished parts, but this remains an impressive and often beautiful excursion. Instrumentally, things start to fly when nu-grass fiddler Darol Anger and banjoist Alison Brown join them on the Buffalo Gals set. Altan have always had a fine way with a slow reel, and Samhradh is no exception, before leading into another energetic jig set with that loping Donegal energy. Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh’s singing shines in the delicate lilt and fall of Cúirt Robin Finley, Anger’s fiddle and Natalie Haas’s cello setting up a shimmering curtain behind, while Mary Chapin Carpenter adds a shadowy harmony to Ni Mhaonaigh’s lead in a lovely adaptation of a Yeats poem, White Birds. JIM GILCHRIST

JAZZ

Dennis Rollins’ Velocity

Trio: Symbiosis

Dogwithabone Music: DRV0001

****

While the format of a horn

with Hammond organ and drums is a familiar one in jazz, the presence of trombone as the horn of choice remains more of a rarity. Dennis Rollins and his collaborators,

organist Ross Stanley and drummer Pedro Segundo, build on the strong foundations laid down on their 2011 debut album, The 11th Gate, and their vibrant live performances in this second release, featuring a similar mix of the trio’s tunes with their take on material from pop and rock sources, including Pink Floyd’s Money and a version of Amanda McBroom’s rather saccharine The Rose. Funk and groove inevitably feature in the course of an energised set, but this is a more straight-ahead jazz outfit than Rollins’ earlier Badbone & Co, and allows all three players plenty of scope to demonstrate their impressive range of instrumental prowess and improvisational gifts. KENNY MATHIESON