Dido: Still On My Mind (BMG) **
Bis: Slight Disconnects (Last Night from Glasgow) ***
Snapped Ankles: Stunning Luxury (The Leaf Label) ****
Dido’s passive domination of the charts at the turn of the millennium was greater even than Adele’s a decade later, though achieved with a fraction of the warmth and personality. Resolutely unstarry, she generally shunned the limelight, concentrated on family life, and withdrew from playing live for 15 years – a situation she will rectify this spring in support of her first new album in six years.
Still On My Mind is another steady-darts collaboration with her writer/producer brother Rollo, made at home with “all the vocals recorded on the sofa”, reflecting the safe, cosy domesticity of her music. There are few dynamics beyond that signature hiccup in her voice but, since much of mainstream pop music is so utterly generic and processed these days, it is almost a relief to hear her clear, demure tones relatively unadorned and unencumbered with studio effects.
The gentle, pared-back simplicity of Hurricanes is anything but a maelstrom, as Dido wisps “let me face the sound and fury” in a far less melodramatic iteration of the “I’ll take a bullet/grenade for you” sentiments of modern pop testifying. When the “storm” finally arrives it is, naturally, a tasteful electro infusion.
The refined relationship angst continues on Give You Up but she expands the sonic palette a little with Take You Home, which takes her back to her roots in chillout dance music as she drifts through an ambient club landscape uttering platitudes about not being able to find her way home.
Dido has recently noted that her songs capture “micro-moments, when something small has a big impact on me.” It doesn’t make for the most scintillating art but there are many who will identify with Dido humming to herself, lost in her own daydream on the light, wispy Some Kind of Love, mum-dancing her way through the mid-paced Mad Love or looking ahead to the day when her child grows up and moves on on Have to Stay.
She delivers her most expressive vocal on Walking Away, which has so little happening behind her that she has to put the shift in.
In complete contrast, cult Glasgow trio Bis are known for their busy bursts of punky DIY synth pop and a colourful, cartoon aesthetic which has secured them a devoted following in Japan. Slight Disconnects is their first album in 18 years and it appears that you can mature when you die, as they zip through another batch of undeniable earworm tunes embellished with equally infectious backing. However, the tone is less shrill and the pace more varied than of old, taking in the funk pop of (I Wanna Go Out With) Someone Else, call and response pithy punk politics of Home Economics, pulsing new wave handjive Hot Dog at the Rock Café, considered indie pop croon The Big Sunshine and There Is No Point (Other Than The Point…Is No Point), an irreverent stab at the standard of modern discourse.
London-based electro punk warriors Snapped Ankles also take a playful approach to their vintage analogue gear and a lively interest in 21st century geo-politics. They have moved on from the woodland concept of debut Come Play The Trees to the steely cityscape of second album, Stunning Luxury, which shares more than a titular word with Heaven 17’s satirical embracing of power brokers on their 1983 album The Luxury Gap. Three Steps To A Development retools the attack for the 21st century London skyline, while elsewhere there is some of Magazine’s snottiness in Rechargeable and a couple of intergalactic adventures in the wig-out vein of fellow sonic travellers from Devo to Django Django. - Fiona Shepherd
Brìghde Chaimbeul: The Reeling (River Lea) ****
This impressive debut from the young, Skye-born piper Brìghde Chaimbeul opens with the grainy drone and groan of a harmonium resurrected from East Church, Cromarty, where the album was recorded, before her pipes bring in a solemn slow air. Chaimbeul’s repertoire, delivered on small pipes, encompasses both her Gaelic heritage and the strong piping culture of Bulgaria. She’s joined by concertina player Radie Peat from the Irish band Lankum, producer Aidan O’Rourke’s fiddle adding nice shading in numbers such as Harris Dance, while veteran piper Rona Lightfoot intones canntaireachd, the traditional vocal method of pipe music transmission, as in Tàladh Nan Cearc – “tune of the chickens” – before Chaimbeul and O’Rourke launch into The Old Woman’s Dance. Such is her confident approach that a sequence of Gaelic song tunes can give way without culture clash to the Bulgarian exuberance of Tornala Maika. - Jim Gilchrist
Mahler: Symphony No 3 (Harmonia Mundi) *****
Mahler’s Third Symphony, perhaps more than any of his others, evokes a world of overt populist references. Take the ‘Flower’ minuet that opens Part 2 and flits along like a piece of musical flummery, or the farmyard rusticism of the scherzo that follows. Even in the massive opening movement there are moments when he seems to preempt the language of Hollywood, schmaltz oozing from every pore. There is, of course, a subliminal side, raptly expressed in the resigned acceptance of the final movement, or the powerhouse Brahmsian horn tune at the start. A great performance consolidates such vying polarities, and here is one of them. The Gürzenich-Orchester Köln (which gave this symphony’s first ever performance in 1902) delivers astonishing lucidity in a performance under François-Xavier Roth that brings every nerve and sinew of the score vividly to life. Contralto Sara Mingardo invests Nietzsche’s Midnight Song with timeless wonder. - Ken Walton