Album reviews: The Strokes | Karl Bartos | Wire | Beethoven | Aaron Diehl

The Strokes. Picture: Greg Macvean
The Strokes. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Our roundup of the latest album releases

The Strokes: Comedown Machine

Rough Trade, £11.99

***

The Strokes never really recovered from the seismic effect of their debut album, Is This It, a near-perfect blast of attitudinous New York rock that was, it transpires, a one-time deal. The gang sensibility has long since evaporated, replaced with a curious desire to tinker with the plasticky sounds of the 1980s. Their never-less-than-interesting fifth album makes liberal use of reggaefied funk rhythms and Julian Casablancas’s breathy falsetto on Tap Out, Welcome To Japan and Slow Animals.

It also contrasts the hectic pace and tiny synths of One Way Trigger, the perky, punky 50/50 and the light, freewheeling Partners In Crime with the woozy fever dream of 80s Comedown Machine and muffled tiki lounge sounds of Call It Fate, Call It Karma and never struggles to muster a disarming hookline.

Karl Bartos: Off The Record

Bureau B, £14.99

***

While we await the coming of the mighty Kraftwerk to T In The Park, ex-member Karl Bartos plunges into his solo archive and works up some old electronica tunes – including one old Electronic tune. Bartos collaborated with Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr in the 1990s and revisits one of his backing tracks here in the clubby form of Musica Ex Machina. Elsewhere he pays analogue synth pop homage to a retro-futuristic Brussels landmark (Atomium), delivers an easy listening paean to one of Andy Warhol’s Superstars (International Velvet) and ranges from Vangelis-style soundscapes to cheesy electro rumbas. No substitute for the Man Machine, but a playful diversion off the Autobahn.

Wire: Change Becomes Us

Pink Flag, £13.99

***

If Wire’s new album sounds at times like it could have been sprung from the vaults of their post-punk purple patch, that would be because most of these tracks started life as fragments of material played once or twice at gigs but never developed beyond the sketches heard on their 1981 live album Document & Eyewitness. Now worked up into full songs, the nosebleed pace and pugnacious attitude of Stealth of a Stork recalls the unvarnished attack of their debut Pink Flag, while the offbeat ballad Re-Invent Your Second Wheel recalls the softer, more melodic lines of their third album 154. Real menace drives Doubles & Trebles, contrasting with the spacey tranquillity of B/W Silence and the blithe forward momentum of Love Bends. Change may become them but there is a certain rigorous sound these musicians cannot help making when they get together.

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 4 & 7

Sony Classical, £13.99

****

There’s no lack of energy and panache in violinist Joshua Bell’s debut recording as conductor/concert master of the Orchestra of St Martin in the Fields. Beethoven is the vehicle – the Fourth and Seventh Symphonies – through which Bell unleashes an intriguing ambivalence combining the occasional vibratoless purity of historic performance practice with the opulent flamboyance of modern instruments and this particular orchestra’s propensity for hot-blooded impact. These are genuinely motivated and directional performances, coloured appropriately with moments of thoughtful beauty. Maybe not enough in the Seventh, but nothing to rob us of a worthy addition to a crowded Beethoven market.

Aaron Diehl: The Bespoke Man’s Narrative

***

Mack Avenue Records, £14.99

A promising debut from Indianapolis pianist Aaron Diehl, who won the prestigious Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz award in 2011. The title refers to the way in which he has attempted to tailor the music to the specific players he is working with, bassist David Wong, drummer Rodney Green, and on seven of the ten tracks, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, who complements the pianist’s considered approach with his own thoughtful virtuosity. If the line-up invokes thoughts of the Modern Jazz Quartet, that’s not a bad analogy for what to expect, and just to underline the point, they cover Milt Jackson’s The Cylinder alongside arrangements of Moonlight in Vermont, music by Gershwin, Ellington, and Ravel, and five of Diehl’s own compositions. A polished outing that reveals a clear awareness of jazz tradition, but with its own fresh slant on the music.

Roddy Woomble: Listen To Keep

Reveal Records, £11.99

****

The former Idlewild singer turned folk-rocker Roddy Woomble dives once again into Tobermory’s productive An Tobar studio, but heads much further west, with a persuasively countryish sound driven by Sorren Maclean’s acoustic and electric guitar work, Gavin Fox on bass and Danny Grant on drums. The opening Making Myths sets the often regretful tone – “Killin’ wealth with a begging bowl, / Dressed like St Peter in the robes I stole” – while Seonaid Aitken provides backing vocals as well as some muscular western fiddle in numbers such as the infectiously beaty Last One of My Kind and Trouble Your Door, the latter featuring sharp acoustic picking from Maclean.

At the rockier end of the spectrum are the prog-pop-ballad feel of the title track with its lush string sound, and Build it to Break with its anthemic electric guitar, whereas Into the Distance on Luck slopes along with the easy gait of a Bert Jansch number, before dissolving into clamorous echoes.

L’arpeggiata and Christina Pluhar - Mediterraneo

Virgin Classics, £18.99

****

This may be marketed as a “classical” CD, but it will appeal to anyone curious about the indigenous musics of the lands surrounding the Mediterranean. Leading her ensemble with her theorbo lute, Christina Pluhar takes us on a voyage in which singers and instrumentalists from different countries and musical traditions present local songs and dances, and to understand the rationale one needs a little history.

The story originates in the 8th century BC when Greeks began to settle in what is now southern Italy, melding their culture with that of the host community. Successive wars and waves of migration led to the establishment of what has become known as the Griko ethnic group in Calabria and the Salento peninsula; the Italian Parliament has recognised them as a distinct national minority, and though the Griko dialects – with their borrowings from Arabic and Calabrian dialects – are mostly spoken by older people, they are anything but a dead language. Griko music reflects similar influences, notably Turkish and Arabic, with the songs coming in a variety of forms: the ninna nanna lullaby; the matinata and serenata songs for young lovers at dawn and at night; the stornello fighting dance; and the moroloja funeral lament. Add to these the various forms of the tarantella – originally a healing dance to cure the bite of the tarantula spider – and you have a wonderfully rich brew.

On top of all this, Pluhar has drawn in some notable singers from other countries: Nuria Rial from Catalonia, Vincenzo Capezzuto from Italy, and the great fadista Misia from Portugal; her period-instrumentalists are complemented by players on the Greek lyra, and the Turkish saz and qanun zither. There are times when one knows exactly where one is – fado is unmistakeable – but at other times the music seems suspended somewhere between Greece, Turkey, and Arabia, as the songs work their gentle magic.