Album reviews: Panda Bear | Nicki Minaj

Panda Bear. Picture: Contributed

Panda Bear. Picture: Contributed

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NOT TO be confused with British electronic jazz producers and recent second-time Mercury Prize nominees Polar Bear, Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox is one of the main creative forces behind the highly acclaimed experimental group from Baltimore, Animal Collective.

POP

Panda Bear

Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

Domino

****

Although the usually very productive Collective have been inactive in terms of releases since 2012’s Centipede Hz album, Lisbon-based Lennox is, if anything, better positioned to dive into his own solo career than ever. While his 2007 third album as Panda Bear, Perfect Pitch, won huge underground acclaim, the fourth and most recent, 2011’s Tomboy, broke the commercial heights of the American top 30.

Negotiating the gulf between art and commerce is a tricky and often accidental business, but it seems from Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper (or PBVSGR, as he’d like us to refer to it in print) that his intention is to sculpt something which sounds unique and compelling, and hope that the rest takes care of itself. It’s an esoteric listen, but never an uncomfortable one, with Lennox’s angelic voice floating high above dreamy soundscapes which show off a dazzling production ethos. Producer Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember (formerly of Spacemen 3 and Spectrum) is a key part of this success.

In Lennox’s voice and in his sonic playfulness and clear craving for new sounds, there are also echoes of Pet Sounds-era Brian Wilson. It’s all there in the squelching rainwater rhythm of Sequential Circuits and in the curious, reverberating aural sinkhole of Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker, while there are diversions into scything stoner rock on Mr Noah, churning 70s electronica on Boys Latin and Principe Real, and fragile, harp-laden chamber balladry on Tropic Of Cancer.

At no point does it feel like we’re being hammered over the head by his eclecticism, though. Instead, this is a record to find satisfaction in anew on each listen. David Pollock

Download: Mr Noah, Tropic Of Cancer

Nicki Minaj

The Pinkprint

Island

***

Despite a slew of guest stars – including Ariana Grande on the overtly lascivious Get On Your Knees, the show-stealing Beyoncé on the slow jam Feeling Myself, and Drake, L’il Wayne and Chris Brown amid the dark confessional Only – this third album from New York rapper and singer Nicki Minaj is in hock to a particularly pervasive gloom. Its austere beats and stark introspection are a bold choice, but result in a joy-sapped end product. DP

Download: Feeling Myself, The Night Is Still Young

Benjamin Schoos

Beau Futur

Freaksville

***

Often witnessed in dinner jacket, bow tie and tails, Belgium’s Benjamin Schoos plays up to that Gainsbourgian stereotype of the Gallic chanteur, the suave but ruffled renaissance man with the rugged poet’s heart. As a writer, producer, illustrator, songwriter and singer, he has the renaissance man part covered, although this diverse selection stretches his talents thin in places. Almost all in French, the wonky Daddy’s Down The Mine excepted, and resting on a retro-futurist theme which often transfers to the music (such as the dreamy synthesised organ on La Grande Aventure), his music bestrides epic orchestration, odysseys into future folk and a madcap Charleston, and indie-pop of which Neil Hannon or Jarvis Cocker would be proud. DP

Download: Une Derniere Danse (Features Laetitia Sadier)

JAZZ

Glenn Miller

Ultimate Legends

Aao Music B00NQ2ZIJC

****

Given that anniversaries of recordings, deaths and even drug arrests of jazz musicians are regularly flagged up, it seems remiss that the 70th anniversary of the mid-air disappearance of the great wartime bandleader and trombonist Glenn Miller went unnoticed last month. This CD is a worthwhile addition to any Miller-deficient collection since it includes most of his hits (though Pennsylvania 6500 is a glaring omission), which define the sumptuous Miller band sound and swinging style. In The Mood, Chattanooga Choo-Choo, Moonlight Serenade and String of Pearls are all included in their original splendour. Alison Kerr

Download: Moonlight Serenade

FOLK

Gerda Stevenson

Night Touches Day

Gean Records GEAN01CD

****

Gerda Stevenson’s first album, which was released last month, reveals her ability to compose poetically meaningful lyrics then express them with pure, articulate vocal skill. As one of Scotland’s finest actresses, she’s already admired for her ability with language, but her singing has been less widely appreciated – until now. Stuck in post-Icelandic volcano Glasgow and having to imagine being in Paris, or musing on the fact that tears can’t fall from an astronaut in zero-gravity space are just two of

the conceits addressed over 13 tracks, but this reviewer would take the last two songs, both hymns to love, and the enduring Scots tradition. Norman Chalmers

Download: Aye The Gean

CLASSICAL

Mozart, Brahms

Clarinet Quintets

Champs Hill CHRCD076

*****

A century apart, both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johannes Brahms composed their Clarinet Quintets for virtuoso soloists. For Brahms, this was violinist-turned-clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld, while Mozart was inspired by fellow Freemason Anton Stadler, although Mozart thought him “a bit of an ass”. Nevertheless, Stadler’s talent led the composer to explore the instrument in some detail. Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto was written for him, the instrument was given an unusually prominent role in Così Fan Tutte, composed just after the Quintet, and Stadler’s skill on the basset horn (another talent) led Mozart to use that in his Requiem.

Both composers draw on folk themes for inspiration, and give the performer some creative space by ending the works with a set of variations. The result is delightfully gentle, reflective and persuasive music, performed here by the Badke Quartet with Maximiliano Martín. Alexander Bryce

Download: Mozart Clarinet Quintet, ‘Menuetto’

INTRODUCING

Supermoon

After three albums spanning eight years, Edinburgh folktronica stalwarts Meursault called it a day in July. Now frontman Neil Pennycook has embarked on Supermoon, his new solo project.

After working in the music industry in London, Pennycook is back in Edinburgh and making progress, with several lo-fi recordings already online.

While he’s keeping his cards close to his chest, the current material hints at the similar kind of raw passion which Meursault expressed so well.

You can listen to Supermoon at soundcloud.com/supermoon-4 and follow him at facebook.com/supermoonuk.

Hamish Gibson

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