Karen O & Danger Mouse: Lux Prima (BMG) ****
The Comet Is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery (Impulse!) ****
Fat Cops: Fat Cops (Absolute) ****
What a double delight to see the names Karen O & Danger Mouse together on an album. The fearless frontwoman of New York art rockers Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the prolific producer and creative collaborator in Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz and Broken Bells are kindred spirits for sure, but lesser spotted these days. The most recent Yeah Yeah Yeahs album appeared in 2013 and O’s solo album, Crush Songs, in 2014, while Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, has concentrated more on production work than his own music of late.
These distinctive stylists could be forgiven for feeling out of step with mainstream music as it stands in 2019. The luscious Lux Prima seems to echo down from a past era – just not Brooklyn in the Noughties. This sumptuous suite of astral, ambient soundscapes with soaring, almost choral vocals occupies a similar exotic realm to Burton’s Rome project with Italian composer Daniele Luppi, for which he brought musicians who had once played for legendary film composer Ennio Morricone out of retirement to perform his loving tribute to spaghetti western soundtracks.
The title track is a beatific nine-minute epic curtain-raiser, which opens as a heady mantra before settling into a trippy pop croon, akin to Air or Beck in pastoral, psychedelic mode.
Languid strings and wah-wah guitar are applied to the sensual palette along the way. Turn the Light is a slice of mellow cosmic funk with O tripping the light ecstatic, while Woman is a ballsier missive delivered in her more familiar testifying whoop.
She is simultaneously resolute and seductive on Redeemer, then soars to the stratosphere with her squeakiest soprano notes on Leopard’s Tongue. The ghost of Minnie Riperton haunts the symphonic jazz lullaby Drown, and the duo draw on European chanson for fuzzy torch song Reveries before bookending their revels with the yearning, delicate six-minute space age lullaby Nox Lumina.
It’s a good week for cosmic odysseys, as London trio The Comet Is Coming – featuring saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, Dan Leavers on synthesizers and drummer Max Hallett – offer an intoxicating cocktail of punky jazz and analogue electronica on their second album.
The throbbing Birth of Creation is overlaid with Hutching’s snake-hipped phrasing, sashaying off into a sultry synth-dappled sunset but this is merely a taster for the bass quake and urgent honking of Blood of the Past, embellished with the dulcet tones of poet Kate Tempest.
In their ever-shifting soundscape, the cleansing ambient balm of Super Zodiac quickly evaporates, replaced by a fidgety drum’n’sax duet, while Hutchings traces soulful circular patterns against skittering percussion on Timewave Zero and the whole trip concludes with the blissful incantation of The Universe Wakes Up.
Fat Cops offer a trip of a different kind, one rooted in the spontaneity of DIY garage and punk. This mid-life crisis outfit were formed for kicks by a group of friends old enough to know better – among them Robert Hodgens aka Bobby Bluebell on guitar, Al Murray aka the Pub Landlord on drums, Neil Murray aka Mr JK Rowling on keyboards and Euan McColm, columnist of this parish, on guitar, plus Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake on backing vocals.
A sense of fun pervades their eclectic self-titled debut from opener Hot Tub, a primitive paean to soaking in communal bubbles, via freewheeling beat excursion Drink All The Drink, slinky electro shuffle Hands Up! Get Down! and 60s garage pastiche I Love Girls (He Loves Girls) to the rollicking sunshine pop of Dehydrated and the relative sophistication of the Motown-inspired Fat City. Fear not for their maturity though - the innuendo-laden Voodoo Nightstick preserves the endangered non-PC spirit of rock’n’roll.
Lucie Horsch: Baroque Journey (Decca) ****
The recorder is often associated with pain, particularly in the hands of the countless children forced to learn it
as the chief portal to musical education. But in truth, when played by someone versed in its agility and sweet ringing tone, it is one of the most uplifting of instruments. Such a star is 19-year-old Lucie Horsch, a Dutch sensation who gets together with the Academy of Ancient Music, fellow recorder player Charlotte Barbour-Condini and lutenist Thomas Dunford (they call him “the Eric Clapton of the lute”) in this chirpy Decca album. The theme is travel, Horsch choosing music from Baroque composers spread around Europe. She begins in her native Netherlands with a folksy Lavolette by Jacob van Eyck, before visiting Germany (Bach and Handel), Sammartini’s Italy, Naudot’s France and Purcell’s England. The music, from concertos to transcriptions from vocal works, is lovely and a vehicle for Horsch’s delicious playing. - Ken Walton
Innes Watson’s Guitar Colloquium (Isle Music Scotland) ****
Multi-instrumentalist Innes Watson sticks to guitar on this hugely enjoyable album, which emerged from a Celtic Connections commission. His playing is accompanied by such fellow-guitarists as Ali Hutton and Barry Reid, plus fiddles from Patsy Reid and Seonaid Aitken, while Alyn Cosker’s drumming propels crisply. The hook of Prelude for Sandy sets the tone for an album which will delight a far wider constituency than guitar buffs. There’s a jumping-jack energy to Stubbs, while the electric guitar yell that emerges from For Queen Nell perhaps underlines the tune’s faint allusion to Hendrix’s Voodoo Child. There’s a mellow drift to Roger, a tribute to Roger Bucknall of Fylde Guitars, with three Fyldes (played by Watson, Will McNicol and Elliott Morris) joined by fiddle and cello, while Glasgow Guitar Colloquium wraps things up with irresistible groove and slick fiddle work. - Jim Gilchrist