Bloc Party bring humour to the party with their new album.
Bloc Party: Four
Frenchkiss Records, £13.99
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MAYBE the members of Bloc Party should (allegedly) fall out more often because, following those split rumours which were flying around a few months ago, the London four-piece have come roaring back with their most dynamic collection to date, bringing attack where before there was lassitude, and hunger in place of navel-gazing.
Matt Tong’s furious drumming ensures that So He Begins To Lie powers off the starting blocks and, barring a few ponderous interludes when they write a riff rather than a song, it’s pedal to the metal all the way home. Kele Okereke’s voice can still stray on the whiny side but he manages to beef up sufficiently to suit the more hardcore style of the album, sounding by turns creepy and unhinged on 3X3. There’s even an unexpected, unvarnished blues number, Coliseum, and something I never thought I’d hear from this po-faced lot – a sense of humour.
The Unwinding Hours: Afterlives
Chemikal Underground, £11.99
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THE second album by ex-Aereogramme members Craig Beaton and Iain Cook moves further away from their previous band into territory you might even call pop music. This pop music can be atmospheric and mournful – the breathy acoustic lament The Dogs has a soupçon of the Blue Nile’s haunting grace. It can be blithe and upbeat, as on opening track Break (featuring everything and the kitchen sink). And it can be dramatic, especially when Beaton’s delicate voice is contrasted with the heavier or brighter elements of the instrumental arrangement. But they haven’t entirely shaken off those post-rock robes – once they’ve found a groove, the duo tend to sit on it for the whole song.
Jessie Ware: Devotion
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IF ONLY her namesake Jessie J had a fraction of the class of South London soul singer Jessie Ware, what a more bearable place the music world would be. Ware styles herself after Sade, right down to the scraped back black hair, but while her debut album of self-styled “downer R&B” is undoubtedly soothing, it is never as soporific as the insipid sounds of Ms Adu. A better reference point for the mellow likes of Running would be Soul II Soul.
An Die Musik: Famous Songs by Franz Schubert
Challenge Records, £13.99
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WITH so much Schubert around on disc, especially the major song cycles, it’s refreshing to have this unpretentious collection of “famous songs” lightly accompanied on fortepiano. The artists are bass-baritone Klause Mertens and Tini Mathot (wife of harpsichordist Tom Koopman, who produced the disc) on fortepiano. There’s something charming in the unadorned mode of presentation, although one soon yearns for greater variety in Mertens’s tonal range, and warmer intimations too. Mathot plays an equally efficient role, if also on the plain side. But what’s not to enjoy in such eternal Schubert favourites Erlkönig, Die Forelle and much more?
Dana & Susan Robinson: American Hornpipe
Threshold Music, online only
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THE Robinsons are singers of authority, both as individuals and when working up some potent close harmonies together, as well as ably handling a range of guitars, banjo, fiddle and sundry other stringed things. Their fourth album combines contemporary songs with American old time and other traditional material, augmented by percussion and acoustic bass.
The traditional songs tend to be the most convincing, such as the dramatic tensions of electric guitar and Susan’s clarion vocals dramatically reinvigorating the children’s rhyme Who Killed Cock Robin? Also effective are Dana’s terse delivery of Raleigh and Spencer and a powerful setting of Fashioned of the Clay, based on English singer Chris Coe’s version of the supernatural ballad, The Grey Cock.
Following that, a modern ditty about farmers markets sounds rather weak, but there are also some nicely played instrumentals, such as the fine old tune Roscoe and the gently-paced Elk River Blues.
Tom Bancroft Trio Red: First Hello To Last Goodbye
Interrupto Music, £10.99
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Although they sound like a well-established unit, drummer Tom Bancroft, pianist Tom Cawley and bassist Per Zanussi only met to play together for the first time on the opening day of recording this debut release. It opens with a “mash up” of Joan Armatrading’s Opportunity and Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman, and closes with Jeff Buckley’s haunting Last Goodbye. In between, the trio explore a series of Bancroft’s compositions and group improvisations (the “first hellos” of the title) in thoughtful, highly empathic style, focusing on concentrated group interaction rather than individual virtuosity, and creating a genuinely communal music as a result. The intimate, conversational mood is intentionally very different from the more expansive colours and energy of Bancroft’s big band projects, although several tunes here are very effectively adapted from both his Orchestro Interrupto and Band of Eden ensembles.
Rough Guide to the music of China
Rough Guides, £8.99
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This isn’t the first Rough Guide to the Music of China: nine years ago Paul Fisher compiled a fine CD under this title, but things have moved on and this new one is the result. What’s most interesting is the way young Chinese instrumental virtuosi have applied conservatoire skills to age-old instrumental formulae, leading to a plethora of styles which are both of the modern world yet rooted in Chinese tradition.
Modishness certainly plays a part – one of the tracks is a remix version of the old Thirties cabaret of Shanghai – but when pipa-player Liu Fang applies the skills she has acquired with experimental musicians from other parts of the world the result is both charming and echt Chinese.
Likewise Second Hand Rose’s use of a traditional instrument like the suona oboe in the service of Chinese storytelling with a rock background sound. Urna Chahar-Tugchi brings experimental vocal techniques to an ensemble style typical of her Mongolian roots; Red Chamber are four Canada-based virtuosi on plucked stringed instruments who purvey a souped-up but entirely Chinese group sound.
One of my favourite tracks comes from Uighur Xinjiang, courtesy of a group called Panjir who improvise with the aid of dulcimer, plucked strings and ney flute.
And it’s appropriate that the bonus CD should be Introducing Hanggai, the world’s leading Mongolian grasslands band whose story is heart-warming. Their leader had been fronting a punk band in Beijing but experienced a Damascene conversion on hearing overtone singing for the first time. He accordingly went back to his father’s homeland to discover how it was done, and became the spearhead for a full-scale Mongolian folk revival.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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