Glasvegas: When the TV Turns to Static
Go wow records, £13.99
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In these days of 24-hour TV, there is always background noise somewhere to keep you company, but you get the point about isolation and the dark night of the soul.
Like almost everything about this group, the idea feels overthought. Three albums in, and there is still an uncomfortable air of contrivance about Glasvegas, like they are a little too keen to chase the cool. Their music has one foot in the stadium terraces, the other in some subterranean fleapit.
The band might prefer to think of themselves in the latter location, sharing their love of 1960s girl groups and dark country music with the Jesus & Mary Chain, but often their lusty heart-on-sleeve urban laments have more in common with the likes of U2 and Simple Minds.
Just to be clear, this is no bad thing, especially with James Allan’s songwriting chops still well up to scratch following their unfairly maligned second album Euphoric Heartbreak.
The opening title track, which contrasts the latent menace of Jonna Lofgren’s martial drumbeat and the customary guitar distortion with the overt sadness of Allen’s passionate chest-beating vocals, is really just one idea spun out for five minutes, but that’s fine – there are more than enough strong melodies on this album to compensate.
Youngblood glides along on a wave of athletic drumming and bruised grace. Secret Truth combines broodiness with a windswept grandiosity.
All I Want is My Baby takes a more cumbersome shot at a socio-political spin on a classic pop idiom. Neon Bedroom dices with cliché too, but is executed with tenderness and, again, sadness.
Allan, inset, guttural crooner that he is, is still trying to fit a few too many syllables into the available bars but now it’s just a part of the band’s distinctive signature.
Most impressive of all are Choices and I’d Rather Be Dead (Than Be With You), both simple, sonorous piano ballads which the likes of Mariah Carey and Beyoncé would love to get their claws into.
If they ever did, you could kiss goodbye to that innate vulnerability which, ultimately, is what serves to make Glasvegas more affecting than affected.
Rizzle Kicks: Roaring 20s
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The Brighton teen rappers who urged us to get down with the trumpets are now in their 20s and still up for a bold, brassy and bouncy soundtrack to their slice-of-life stories. There’s no street cred pose about these guys; instead, they throw their creative energies into witty, accessible rhymes and eclectic, spirited backing tracks such as the jazzy melody and piano sample on The Reason I Live. The guest appearance of actor Dominic West as a posh, soused MC adds to the cartoonish feel but there are some bittersweet observations about their “lost generation” behind all the larking.
Baby-Shambles: Sequel to the Prequel
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Apart from erratic attempts to get an acting career off the ground, the notorious Pete Doherty has been lying low in Paris and Thailand for the past couple of years. But the old charisma is back as soon as Fireman comes shooting out the traps with an insouciant punk snottiness that few of his contemporaries can carry off. Like Doherty himself, what Sequel to the Prequel lacks in core creativity it makes up for in personality.
Conventional indie anthem Farmers Daughter and beefy classic rocker Penguins provide the heft, the vaudeville title track and spacey ska number Doctor No add variety and the chiming New Pair cuts deeper with its plaintive vulnerability.
Romantic Sonatas: Rachman-Inov, Grieg and Liszt
Orchid Classics, £12.99
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Three hefty sonatas by Rachmaninov, Grieg and Liszt come together in a hefty recording of Romantic sonatas by the Russian pianist, Boris Giltburg. He has the power and energy to carry it off, imbuing Rachmaninov’s restless Piano Sonata No 2 with frenetic momentum and beefy resonance, and Grieg’s Nordic-flavoured Sonata with snatches of dance-infused levity. But the real tour de force is Giltburg’s monumental interpretation of Lizst’s B minor sonata, a performance that draws together its disparate motifs and tempi skilfully and with an emotional welter that knocks you sideways.
Catriona Mckay & Olov Johansson: The Auld Harp
Olov Johansson Music, £14.99
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This second fine album from the unlikely sounding pairing of Scottish harp and Swedish nyckelharpa or keyed fiddle, by two acclaimed exponents with very contemporary takes on their respective traditions, once again produces a beguiling combination of timbres, the crystalline ringing of harp strings contrasting with the grainy, drawn-out singing of the Swedish instrument.
The players fully exploit these tonal contrasts, from the vivaciously percussive harp striking of the opening title track to the suspended stillness of January Lament.
Elsewhere, the old Highland harp tune Rory Dall’s Port (on which Burns based Ae Fond Kiss) is endowed with a shadowy grace and bagpipe echoes by a nyckelharpa drone before breaking into the cheerful trot of a polka, McKay’s tune Going Green, composed on a journey to Ireland, has the expansive measure of an 18th-century O’Carolan air, while O’Carolan’s own, familiar John O’Connor skips along in fresh new garb.
Magnus Öström: Searching for Jupiter
Act Music, £15.99
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Drummer Magnus Öström always felt like the major instigator of the rock influences that were so palpable in the music of E.S.T., and his own music since the tragic death of Esbjörn Svensson in 2008 has strengthened that prognosis.
This disc opens with the Pink Floyd-ish The Moon (and the Air It Moves), setting a pattern for the quartet’s appealing mix of rock and jazz sensibilities that is maintained across a variety of shifting moods and styles, taking in the breezy Dancing at the Dutchtreat, the more melancholic drift of Mary Jane Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, the Metheny-like Through the Sun, and the surging At the End of Eternity. Guitarist Andreas Hourdakis, pianist Daniel Karlsson and bassist Thobais Karlsson are all convincingly tuned into the drummer’s musical thinking – catch them at the Islay Jazz Festival in September.
The Rough Guide to Cumbia
Gough Guides, £9.99
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If you want a sound for summer you couldn’t do better than put on this exuberant CD. Cumbia, which originated in the coastal regions of Colombia, blends African, European, and Native American elements in its rhythms, instrumentation and melodies, and you are always aware of the Yoruba drum patterns underlying it. Originally the dances were for rites of passage and courtship, but as the style caught on inLatin America in the 20th century its scope broadened. This compilation celebrates the best performers of the last 50 years.