Is it too soon to knight Mogwai as elder statesmen of post-rock?
MOGWAI: RAVE TAPES
£13.99 Star rating; * * *
The ever-grounded Glasgow band wear their reputation very lightly but their creeping progression from bolshy young bucks to internationally respected purveyors of instrumental soundtracks of pummelling force, great delicacy and a fair few points in between deserves some sort of recognition.
Long-time fans may hold a candle for the brutalist soundscapes of old but, almost two decades into their career, Mogwai are embracing other avenues. Their sympathetic soundtrack for eerie French drama Les Revenants was a huge part of that show’s success, so much so that one suspects there will be further commissions where that came from.
Fans of that score should find plenty to chew on here. Although Rave Tapes is neither as varied nor, dare we moot it, accessible as previous album Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, it is not short on richly atmospheric moments. Guitars are frequently outflanked by keyboards, as the band play around with the distinctive, evocative tones of analogue synthesizers. Daft Punk made a party album with the same ingredients; Mogwai have something more stealthily disturbing in mind.
Following the gentle, reflective opener Heard About You Last Night, with its warm, undulating guitar, they up the ante with the ominous, stabbing synth chords and ringing quasi-metal riffola of Simon Ferocious, the latest in a long line of playfully titled Mogwai tracks you wouldn’t want to mess with.
Repelish is also subtly unsettling, with its mournful synths underscoring a re-recording of a Christian radio broadcast warning against the supposed subliminal satanic messages of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven. Mogwai maintain the atmosphere and up the momentum on the mighty Master Card and the stately Deesh but the recently previewed Remurdered is the stand-out track, a fully realised journey of a composition which recalls 1970s horror soundtracks with its measured menace and unexpected burst of baroque synth arpeggios.
Blues Hour is a rare vocal track from this band, a spacey, supine meditation which gradually mounts in volume and intensity to recall the shoegazing Mogwai of old. There are bonus vocals, of sorts, on the more engaging vocoder lullaby The Lord Is Out Of Control, providing a soothing outro to an album which will otherwise have you nervously looking over your shoulder for reassurance.
Bruce Springsteen: High Hopes
Star rating; * * *
This collection of covers, outtakes and new versions of old Springsteen favourites is a righteous rag bag, ranging from rambunctious gospelly rocker Heaven’s Wall to the soulful, yearning Down In The Hole and the stealthy, low-slung Harry’s Place, featuring late E Street Band linchpins Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons (whose nephew Jake appears elsewhere as his successor). Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, deputising for the absent Steve Van Zandt, was instrumental in plugging a spirited cover of The Saints’ Just Like Fire Would and a more workmanlike take on Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream, and lends a stormy solo and brooding Nick Cave-like vocal to an electrified and electrifying version of The Ghost Of Tom Joad. FS
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Wanderlust
Star rating: * * *
Following her profile-raising stint on Strictly Come Dancing, Sophie Ellis-Bextor has made the arguably perverse decision to abandon the demure dancefloor diva thrust of her previous solo albums for the filmic pop landscape of Wanderlust. Strictly fans can console themselves with a couple of dreamy waltzes as Ellis-Bextor takes on the new role of ice maiden femme fatale in a 60s spy movie. Her very own John Barry is co-writer and producer Ed Harcourt, who provides the garagey organ licks on the driving 13 Little Dolls as well as a handful of manicured misfires, which sound like concessions to daytime radio playlists. FS
Jonathan Biss: Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Vol 3
ONYX 4115, £15.99
Star rating: * * * * *
In Volume 3 of his protracted Onyx series covering Beethoven’s piano sonatas – nine volumes spread over over as many years – Jonathan Biss focuses on the meditative Pastorale Sonata, op 28, and the G major Sonata, op 31 no 1, both written in 1801, and the slightly later Waldstein sonata. It’s a powerful trio of works, and an equally powerful set of performances. Biss draws out their uniqueness in each case, the unpretentious subtleties of the Pastorale, the agile wit of the G major, and the electrifyingly suppressed dynamism of the Waldstein. Thoughtfulness and bravado coexist in Biss’s superlatively detailed performances, which are fresh and inspire at every turn. KEN WALTON
AVAILABLE FROM WWW.SARAHMACNEIL.COM, WEB ONLY
Star rating: * * *
Just a five-track EP, but a bright and sparky debut recording for the emergent Scottish harp duo of Sarah MacNeil from Larbert (but with Barra connections) and Orcadian Jessica Burton. Both honours graduates of the productive Scottish music course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, they gel well as a duo, their more up-tempo numbers crisply underpinned by percussionist John Lowrie, a graduate of the Conservatoire’s jazz course.
The opening Blue Gaze set vivaciously demonstrates their capabilities, Libby Kelsall of Glaitness House flows gently and satisfyingly, while the Aura set, after its lush reverb opening, sees the twin harps cascade along nicely, deftly skittering cymbals giving way to a beaty climax. With its syncopation and pulsing riffs, the album is contemporary both in repertoire and in approach. Occasionally the groove can get a little overworked, but the playing is easeful, nicely toned, at times beguiling and bodes well indeed for the future. JIM GILCHRIST
Mark Perry & Duncan Eagles Quintet: Road Ahead
Star rating: * * * *
Trumpeter Mark Perry and saxophonist Duncan Eagles have been frequent collaborators in a variety of settings on the UK jazz scene, and that compatibility is readily apparent in this inventive exploration of the cooler and more structured end of contemporary bop-influenced jazz, albeit with no shortage of drive and energy on the up-tempo tunes. They lead an excellent band featuring pianist Sam Leak, bassist Max Luthert and drummer Chris Nickolls, with additional contributions from flutist Gareth Lockrane and singer Ola Onabule. The leaders shared writing duties for the project, and each came up with five new compositions featuring a series of pleasing melodies and some beguiling counterpoint, all underpinned by subtle harmonic and rhythmic twists. Although they worked independently on their material, the combined result feels like an integrated collection.
The Rough Guide To... The Best African Music You’ve Never Heard
Star rating: * * * *
This CD is pure pleasure from start to finish, as each group – selected from World Music Network’s Battle of the Bands competition – struts its stuff. And it’s mostly very refined, notably the astonishingly fleet finger-work from Noumoucounda Cissoko, and the plangent trumpeting from Idrissa Diop of Le Sahel. Some of the musicians are familiar, like the Krar Collective, Amadou Diagne and Anergy Afrobeat; others are newcomers, and there are a number of new releases. The acoustic warmth of it all sweeps you along, and you take the virtuosity for granted.