OUR writers review the latest album releases including Tame Impala, Little Boots and Simpson, Cutting, Kerr
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Tame Impala: Currents
Star rating: ****
Try to overlook the terrible band name – Tame Impala are a serious musical proposition. The man behind the cuddly moniker is introverted Aussie Kevin Parker, the kind of space cadet who seems like he might have trouble tying his own shoelaces but who has emerged as an astute, shapeshifting creative contender in the last couple of years.
With this latest album, you could comfortably file Parker next to his antipodean brethren Empire of the Sun as architects of exquisite electro pop ecstasy. Where Empire have wholly embraced sleek synth lines, Tame Impala still err more on the psychedelic side.
Their second album, Lonerism, was the platinum-selling breakthrough, leading the latest revival of stoner psych rock. Its chief anthem, Elephant, featured some synthesizers but was definitely still more Black Sabbath than Blue Monday. However, Parker’s musical outlook has decidedly shifted into poppier territory since he co-wrote and sang with Mark Ronson on a couple of the trippier tracks on Uptown Special.
Parker credits an epiphany while listening to the Bee Gees on mushrooms, rather than Ronson rubbing off on him, but the blissed reveries on Currents are as brilliantly stylised and meticulously crafted as Ronson’s love letter to Seventies and Eighties soul funk. Nang, for example, is only a brief interlude but very much in the dreamy disco spirit of those Ronson collaborations.
Currents begins ambitiously with mini-synth symphony Let It Happen, which flows from blithe psych pop through a magisterial synth interlude to a more robust electro coda. The lyrics are inspired by Parker’s realisation that he couldn’t keep cloistering himself away but had to join the human race.
A failed relationship is the catalyst for a number of songs. The Less I Know The Better, undersold by Parker as “dorky white disco funk”, indulges in some emotional bargaining. Cause I’m a Man is his passive-aggressive take on the old unapologetic blues swagger, sung in a light, lovelorn voice by a guy who sounds like he doesn’t have any chest hair, while Love Paranoia is as musically ravishing but as lyrically lacerating as anything on Bjork’s recent break-up suite Vulnicura.
At its core, Eventually is a confessional croon about the agonies inflicted as love goes down the tubes. Parker sounds serene as he lands some wincing blows (“wish I could turn you back into a stranger”) but all around him there are aggressive intrusions of heavier electro rock passages, reminiscent of Parker’s heroes The Flaming Lips.
He tells it straight on Yes I’m Changing, a flower power ballad not unlike Beck’s dreamier moments, but with the trance-like Eighties synths turned up, and has made it through the other side by the time he lands on closing track New Person, Same Old Mistakes.
Perhaps he protests too much about the personal revolution but the musical transformation is there for all to hear.
Rachel Sermanni: Tied to the Moon
Middle of Nowhere Recordings
Star rating: ****
It’s onwards and upwards for Rachel Sermanni, who begins to distinguish herself from the winsome singer/songwriter pack with her second album. Traditional music is still a touchstone but she moves further into noir pop territory on Tied to the Moon. Tremulous acoustic numbers such as Old Lady’s Lament or the romantic ukulele strum of Ferryman command the same quiet authority as Laura Marling, but she also sounds at home with the fuller band arrangements of the heady, rumbling Run and varies the palette again with the lopsided cabaret rhythms of I’ve Got A Girl.
Little Boots: Working Girl
On Repeat Records
Star rating: ****
The Little Boots world domination enterprise hasn’t quite come off since her much-heralded debut a few years ago. Yet still her third album, Working Girl, is all business. If anything, her sound is even more sleekly streamlined than previously and better for it. The driven disco of Get Things Done recalls Moloko, Taste It comes over like the cool, coquettish electro track on a Kylie or Britney album and the more vulnerable moments, such as the title track and the light dubby Nineties electro pop of The Game, channel the bittersweet spirit of Saint Etienne. The only downside to this assured album is that comparisons are too easy.
Beethoven: Sonatas for Fortepiano and Violin
Star rating: ****
The fortepiano and violin duo of Ian Watson and Susanna Ogata kickstart their survey of Beethoven’s complete sonatas for that particular combo in virile, dramatic style. It’s the A minor sonata that gets things going, the music of the opening Presto flashy and flamboyant. Ogata and Watson’s playing of it is turbulent, intense and driven by the composer’s fiery writing and wide-open expressive palate. The fortepiano here is no fragile museum piece, but a sparring partner with attitude. That same assertiveness informs the remainder of this particular sonata, not least in the lyrical playfulness of the Andante scherzoso. It is paired with the deeper intellectualism of the “Kreuzer” sonata, Op 47, virtuosically delivered.
SIMPSON, CUTTING, KERR: MURMURS
Star rating: ****
Their album cover suitably depicting that mesmerising phenomenon, a murmuration of starlings, this superbly matched trio of superb English folk musicians – singer-guitarist Martin Simpson, accordionist Andy Cutting and singer Nancy Kerr on fiddle and viola – delivers traditional and contemporary material that engages with history and politics but also reflects inspiration from the natural world. Thus Simpson’s eloquent nature observations mingle with wartime tragedy in Dark Swift and Bright Swallow, or, in Toy Soldiers, with wry observations on land use and abuse, while Dark Honey is Kerr’s lightsome song evocation of inner-city bee-swarming, her fiddle and Simpson’s five-string banjo dancing nicely together. Traditional material includes dicey aristocratic goings-on in Simpson’s telling of Fair Rosamund, darkly coloured by Kerr’s viola; thence to the contrasting hop, skip and jump of old-timey sounding tunes on banjo fiddle and accordion – which also combine for a rousing account of the Border pipe tune Lads of Alnwick.
GLASGOW IMPROVISERS ORCHESTRA: GIOSEVENS
Star rating: **
Seven members of GIO, the Glasgow Improvisers’ Orchestra, are let loose in Dunollie Castle, Oban, resulting in the kind of musical mayhem one might expect. GIO’s live shows can be memorable; on a recording, however, the theatrical tension of what might happen next doesn’t come over. Following the enigmatic rattlings and soundings of the preliminary Waiting for GIO, random occurrences range from forlorn reed strains, Nicola McDonald’s mournful voicings and what sounds like the clacking of agricultural implements, while a circus seems to erupt in The Vaults, with its elephantine brass outbursts. Grievously assaulted acoustic guitar and cuckoo-like flute echo the genuine birdsong permeating the most effective sound world, The Garden, recorded outdoors, its instrumental murmurs and swarmings merging with the surrounding environment. Overall, though, this can be wearisome listening. Perhaps, as they say, you had to have been there ...