Album reviews: Twin Atlantic | Fleet Foxes | Smith Westerns | Classical | Jazz | Folk | World

Our critics review the best and worst of this week's new releases...


Twin Atlantic: Free **

Red Bull Records, 10.99

GLASGOW'S Twin Atlantic have enjoyed a steady rise over the past few years and there is no question that they can flail their guitars just as well as the next band – and the next band, and the next band. On this full-length debut, they have some irreverent fun with the bubblegum punk rock-meets-nu-trash metal of The Ghost Of Eddie but otherwise Free is a sturdy but wholly generic exercise in the diluted "alternative" rock aesthetic which has allowed the Average Joe likes of Feeder to make a decent wage from music in these post-grunge times. Along the way, the earnest quartet nod to their successful Scottish peers with a soupon of angsty Snow Patrol balladry, some Mogwai-issue instrumental atmospherics and an overall semblance of Biffy Clyro minus the quirky dynamics.

Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues ****

Bella Union, 13.99

CAUGHT unawares by the international success of their debut album, it has taken Fleet Foxes a couple of soul-searching years to come up with what is essentially more of the same plaintive, autumnal folk/country rocking Crosby, Stills & Nash-indebted harmonising loveliness on this follow-up where mournful voices resonate, acoustic guitars sound huge and lyrical concerns extend to snowflakes, orchards and one's place in the big, bad universe. There's not a weak link here, unless doing what you do very nicely all over again can be considered a weakness, but the epic The Shrine/An Argument stands out from all the mesmerising melancholy with its darker, harried tone, dissonant brass and sorrowful strings. If you loved them before, prepare to fall for them afresh, though you may have to make some room for the Mumford & Sons fans this time round.

Smith Westerns: Dye It Blonde ****

Weird World,

JUST like MGMT and Ariel Pink before them, Chicago's Smith Westerns have appeared as if from nowhere to make psychedelic pop overtures to the masses just as the sun has come out. Although their DIY roots are still showing on Dye It Blonde, the trio's first full-length album features wall-to-wall freewheeling indie pop in a lo-fi Flaming Lips style, punctuated liberally with fuzzy outbreaks of glam guitar. Spearheaded by current single Weekend, this sounds like a winning summer charm offensive. FIONA SHEPHERD


Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos 3 & 10 *****

Mariinsky, 13.99

Valery Gergiev couples two of Shostakovich's most significant symphonies in these riveting, pugnacious, and genuinely taut performances by the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. And how wonderful to hear a truly Russian chorus capture the blind utopian optimism of the finale ("On the very first May Day") to the Symphony No 3, reflective of 1920s' post-Revolution euphoria. The Tenth Symphony also expresses a sense of release, this time Shostakovich's own artistic release in the wake of Stalin's death. It is a thrill to sense the contrast of the Third's youthful joy against the pungent maturity of the Tenth. And Gergiev knows exactly how to touch every nerve. KENNETH WALTON


Marius Neset: Golden Xpolsion ****

Edition Records, 12.99

MARIUS Neset is increasingly regarded as a major emerging voice on the European jazz scene, and this second disc more than justifies the acclaim that is coming his way. The Norwegian saxophonist scores highly on both his hugely imaginative and technically excellent playing – full of unpredictable twists and turns – and his 11 absorbing original compositions. From the opening double-tracked tenor saxophone solo that introduces Golden Xplosion to the graceful Angel of the North (somewhat reminiscent of Pat Metheny), the quartet explore a shifting soundscape that is both individually arresting and hangs together very satisfyingly as a whole. He is abetted by Django Bates, adding his quirky invention and textural depth on piano and keyboards, and the powerful combination of bassist Jasper Hiby and drummer Anton Eger, the rhythm section in the excellent London-based outfit, Phronesis. A name to watch. KENNY MATHIESON


Mike Vass: Strign Theory ***

Own Label,

ENGAGING if not entirely gripping contemporary folk compositions from award-winning fiddler Mike Vass, accompanied by a tight little band including his piano-playing twin sister Ali, piper (though mainly confined to whistle) Calum MacCrimmon, accordionist Angus Lyon and drummer Steve Fivey. The playing is as accomplished as one might expect, fiddle sliding easefully over chiming electric piano in Fairholm Road, for instance, while Anna Massie's banjo adds a percussive edge to It's A Bar, a bright set additionally bolstered by wordless vocal choruses, and there's much syncopated exuberance in the Calum James MacCrimmon medley.

While played with style, few of the tunes seem likely to lodge in the musical memory. Where things get really interesting is in the somewhat grandiloquently titled Man's Search, with its tidal drifts of strings (Megan Henderson) over rippling piano and shifting drum rhythms, and MacCrimmon's pipes sounding a hypnotic, signal-like theme over pulsing bass. JIM GILCHRIST


Beihdja Rahal: In the mood for the Nouba ****

Institut du Monde Arabe, 8.99

WE HEAR little about Algeria, and what comes through tends to be depressing political news, so this CD, put out with full scholarly panoply by the excellent Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, is a welcome corrective. Beihdja Rahal comes from an artistic family and initially learned the mandolin, but decided to study the Arab-Andalusian musical tradition in her Algerian conservatoire. Her exceptional talent as a singer induced a leading sound engineer to ask her to record the complete Algerian "nouba" repertoire, and though she initially refused – preferring a career as a biologist – she finally gave in: this CD is one of the results.

The Andalusian tradition goes back to medieval times when Spain was a Muslim country. When the Muslims were expelled, the consequent nostalgia for their Iberian homeland became a staple of their poetry and song, and Andalusian music was in the true sense of the word classical, with its modes, forms, and structures. The word "nouba" means literally "to wait for one's turn", which is what each member of the ensemble – lute, zither, flute, percussion, and voice – must do in each piece.

Each nouba begins with an instrumental overture, into which percussion is added, with the tempo attaining trance-like momentum, before slowing down for the voice to enter. Each nouba ends with an invitation to dance. The poetry here is colourful and seductive: the first nouba, traditionally performed just after dawn, evokes nature lit up by the first rays of daylight, with the flowers opening up, and the poet's spirit also. As the imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali declared: "He who has not been moved by the sight of spring flowers and the sound of a lute has a corrupt soul for which no cure exists." MICHAEL CHURCH