Antony & the Johnsons star Anohni makes a strong re-entry to the music scene, writes Fiona Shepherd. Additional jazz and classical reviews by Jim Gilchrist and Ken Walton
An imperious diva walks among us this week, breaking new musical ground and candidly tackling thorny issues in her lyrics. No, it’s not Beyoncé – though more on her shortly – but Anohni, the transsexual artist formerly known as Antony Hegarty, who debuts in her new identity with a corresponding musical volte face, swapping the tremulous chamber pop of Antony & the Johnsons for a meatier but equally atmospheric electronica backing.
Hopelessness (***) is a collaboration with Oneohtrix Point Never, aka Brooklyn-based experimental composer Daniel Lopatin, and Glaswegian DJ/producer Hudson Mohawke, who has lent his studio skills to albums by Kanye West and Mark Ronson. The trio will bring their partnership to the Edinburgh International Festival in August; Hopelessness is a tantalising taster for a show with the potential to dazzle.
Anohni’s distinctive, androgynous vocal is a less quavery instrument here, breathy at points, elsewhere more declamatory, in keeping with the widescreen musical backdrop and more challenging lyrics.
Sometimes, this takes the form of a challenge to self, as on 4 Degrees, which was originally released to mark the global climate conference in Paris last year, and finds Anohni questioning her own stewardship of the planet to a soundtrack of epic synthesized strings, industrial toms and portentous brass blasts.
Elsewhere, on Drone Bomb Me, she inhabits the role of an Afghan orphan pleading for her own mercy killing over plangent electronica. On Obama, she takes issue with the US president’s human rights record, intoning his name like a dread mantra over an electro noir backing but there is also room for an intimate torch song such as I Don’t Love You Anymore, with trip-hop fuzz replacing mournful piano.
The classiness of the delivery from all three players neutralises the more pretentious aspects of the presentation; a balancing act already regularly achieved by Bjork, who is clearly a key influence.
In terms of commercial and cultural clout, they don’t come much harder than Beyoncé, who released her latest visual album “experience” with little advance warning a couple of weeks ago – to subscribers of her husband’s music streaming service and viewers of HBO, that is.
Kendrick Lamar raised the hip-hop/R&B bar last year with his stunning socially conscious and musically adventurous To Pimp A Butterfly album. With Lemonade (***), Queen Bey is aiming to catch a bit of that reflected glory, though her eclecticism – Andy Williams samples, country hoedowns, ambient jazz interludes, underwhelming shout-offs with Jack White – feels much more contrived and coated with that showbiz Teflon she has applied throughout her career. She presents a bruised vulnerability on several numbers about infidelity, calculated to stoke speculation about her marriage to Jay-Z, and all just grist to brand Bey.
But at least she uses that brand to fuel discussion on race and gender roles – 6 Inch is a 21st-century R&B take on She Works Hard for the Money, while Formation is Beyoncé’s Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.
For a more playful – in fact, just plain bonkers – approach to life’s big questions, take a trip on Adam Green’s magic carpet.
His psychedelic Aladdin (****) is a movie and album project, starring Green as the protagonist, with musician and actor buddies such as Macaulay Culkin and Devendra Banhart in supporting roles and a 3D printer in place of the genie’s lamp.
I won’t pretend I could follow the musical script, but, unlike Beyoncé’s pick-and-mix approach, Green’s quirky patchwork of acid guitar distortion, lo-fi electronic jingles and synthetic bossa nova is accompanied by a bunch of engaging tunes delivered in Green’s warm baritone croon. Fiona Shepherd
CLASSICAL: Xiayin Wang: Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 2 / Khachaturian Piano Concerto | Rating: **** | Chandos
Pianist Xiayin Wang and the RSNO have proved themselves live in the concert hall; now here’s a thundering Russian concerto pairing that transfers the results onto disc. In both piano concertos – Tchaikovsky’s substantial and ebullient Second and Khachaturian’s offbeat Op.38 – Wang is prominent and dominant, her blistering technique making easy work of Khachaturian’s fearsome virtuoso demands, her formidable musicality probing Tchaikovsky’s most lyrical moments, most searchingly in the gorgeous Andante where solo violin and cello (the RSNO’s Maya Iwabuchi and Aleksei Kiseliov) emerge as fellow protagonists. But the emphasis is always on communicating the intense, underpinning drama. The RSNO, under Peter Oundjian, is with her all the way, pungent and alert, and beautifully atmospheric in delivering Khachaturian’s quirky sound world. Ken Walton
JAZZ: Preston Glasgow Lowe: Preston Glasgow Lowe | Rating: **** | Whirlwind Recordings
The exhilarating rush of the opening Colour Possesses is a fair taste of things to come in this creative and high-energy debut album from guitarist David Preston, six-string bass guitarist Kevin Glasgow and drummer Laurie Lowe.
Lowe’s busily shifting drum patterns underpin Preston’s nimble and round-toned guitar flights, in Elephant and Castle, for instance, and he contributes an extended drum break to the three-part Within You, which opens with virtuoso, ruminative soloing from Preston before shifting into tight and richly textured ensemble work. Elsewhere are the soaring plangency of Song to the Citadel, the staccato bite and wailing guitar-synth of C:/>PU (no, me neither) and the simmering guitar work of The Anvil. Preston adds occasional synths and programming, but the overall effect is of a trio fast-playing and fast-reacting with often spectacular ease. Jim Gilchrist