The Twilight Sad are on sparkling form for their new album, while Hipsway roll back the years
The Twilight Sad: It Won/t Be Like This All The Time (Rock Action) ****
Hipsway: Smoke & Dreams (Hipsway) ***
You Tell Me: You Tell Me (Memphis Industries) ****
A new year brings a new label, a new approach and a new(ish) line-up for The Twilight Sad, who have to date released four acclaimed albums with the excellent Brighton-based label Fat Cat but now decamp to Mogwai’s Rock Action Records.
If the relationship between the two bands didn’t already exist, it would probably have to be invented. Like Mogwai, The Twilight Sad have managed to turn a lifelong love of gothic rock titans The Cure into a close touring partnership as the latter’s support act of choice. This has come with bonus endorsement from Cure frontman Robert Smith, who has described The Twilight Sad as “the best band playing the best songs – consistently brilliant, emotional, intense, inspiring, entertaining.”
Following months of traversing the States together, their senior tourmates’ brooding gothic edge has rubbed off conspicuously on to It Won/t Be Like This All The Time. But this fifth album is also more of a band effort. Following the amicable departure of drummer Mark Devine, touring members Brendan Smith and Johnny Docherty are now as involved as frontman James Graham and guitarist Andy MacFarlane in sculpting the sound, which is quite the throwback accomplishment.
The melodic accessibility of I/m Not Here [Missing Face] and singalong disquiet of Videograms are cut from the same wouldbe gothic fabric as the music of Interpol and Editors, but beyond these taster singles is the deeper immersion of [10 Good Reasons for Modern Drugs] which opens the album with a strident, unsettling pulse before decompressing with exultant starburst synths. Graham is in declamatory, even accusatory mood on the muscular indie rock thrust of Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting, the emotional maelstrom of the Talk Talk-influenced VTr and unapologetic 80s synth pomp of Keep It All To Myself. There is also a respectful noir nod to Scotland’s own goth royalty, the Cocteau Twins, via the trebly beat, plangent basslines, sepulchral guitars and keening synths of The Arbor.
Hipsway don’t require any second hand knowledge to evoke their own mid-80s timewarp. They were among the chief pop exports from Glasgow at a buzzing time when the city’s musicians sought escape from Thatcherism with an aspirational combination of pop, funk and blue-eyed soul.
Reforming in 2016, the band has stuck with the blueprint for Smoke & Dreams. Their first album in 30 years is a confidently wrought portal back to their heyday. Old Time Religion, an immaculately produced slice of smooth funk, simultaneously adopts and rejects gospel influence, Saturday Night presents a Caledonian spin on the Chic party formula, while the lean Sidestep offers wry encouragement to those whose hipsway action may be somewhat lacking in fluidity.
They drag their own heels on moody number The Cost of Getting Lost but succeed in building up a head of steam on the dramatic Fatal Kiss before heading into the astral funk territory of Because You’re A Star.
You Tell Me is the seamless partnership of Field Music’s Peter Brewis and Admiral Fallow’s Sarah Hayes. Their self-titled debut slightly favours the former’s quirky signature blend of indie pop, psych folk and prog rock, though Hayes comes into her own on the piano ballad Jouska, which is further elevated by its soaring string arrangement, while her commanding but pure folk tones mean the pair can truly live out their Kate Bush fantasies – which is only appropriate, given they first met as part of Emma Pollock’s excellent Bush tribute event in 2017. Two years on, they have produced the first fresh sonic tonic of the new year.
Stile Antico: In a Strange Land (Harmonia Mundi) *****
The “Strange Land” referred to is that period of religious uncertainty in England between Henry VIII’s break with Rome in 1534 and the Stewart reign of James I (IV of Scotland) up to the 1620s. Church musicians – which most composers were – experienced the uncertainty of Henry’s nascent Protestantism, the knee jerk radicalism of Edward VI’s reign, the retrenchment to Catholicism under Mary I, then the move to a more tolerant Protestantism under Elizabeth I and the establishment of Anglicanism under James. Stile Antico concentrate here on the English Catholic composers, who either moved to Europe in fear of persecution or stayed put and toed the line. They sing with glowing perfection and textural precision, as befits such polyphonic masterpieces as Byrd’s Tristitia et anxietas, Monteverdian Factum est selentium and Dowland’s Flow, my tears. There’s also one 20th century work, Huw Watkins’ The Phoenix and the Turtle.
Ant Law: Life I Know (Edition Records) ****
Scots guitarist Ant Law is joined by alto saxophonist Mike Chillingworth, pianist Ivo Neame, double-bassist Tom Farmer and drummer James Maddren. They cook up some boisterous echoes of prog-rockery, as in the opening Movies, but they can also shift deftly between the clamorous and the limpid. Aquilinus, for instance, suspends a floating melody, bolstered by guest tenor saxist Tim Garland, over a solidly travelling rhythm section and rippling piano before building up to purposeful breaks from Law and Garland. Another guest, percussionist Asaf Sirkis, introduces Laurvin Glaslowe with a staccato fusillade of Indian konnakol vocables before the rest slam in. In contrast, Pure Imagination is a brief but beguiling shimmer of solo guitar, while the longest track, The Act Itself, is a procession of shifting moods and textures, from sax growls and sizzling guitar to lulling sequences before the band reasserts its might.