There is a certain comfort for Belle & Sebastian fans in their beloved band’s oddity and non-conformity.
Belle & Sebastian: Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance
These cult operators can be trusted to stand apart, do their own thing and care not a jot for passing fads. So there may be a brief jolt of confusion and incomprehension for those who tune in to new single The Party Line to hear 30 immaculately-produced seconds of prime rave pop before Stuart Murdoch’s breathy voice reassures the listener that they have not purchased David Guetta’s new banger by mistake. What better way to stand out from the crowd than to step out of your comfort zone?
Belle & Sebastian take to the dancefloor a few times during their ninth album and as it transpires, this sleek indie electro direction suits them right down to their dancing shoes. The Saint Etienne vibe continues with Sarah Martin’s The Power Of Three, a silky slice of number theory disco pop, while Enter Sylvia Plath taps into that Pet Shop Boys-patented blend of Eurodisco elation and intelligent lyrical life.
Play For Today also teams carefree synth pop with exquisitely sung sentiments about writing yourself a better life, while Stevie Jackson’s wonderfully mischievous Perfect Couples (“sexual tension at the fridge, he makes for the organic figs”) is key party funk with a multi-tracked Martin cooing beside the cocktail sausages.
As Jackson resists the onset of mid-life crisis, Murdoch faces up to his past on Nobody’s Empire, a poetic appraisal of his on-off battle with ME (“from this hiding place life was way too much, it was loud and rough round the edges”) and the consolation and succour he found in friendship with a fellow sufferer.
Keeping things personal, The Everlasting Muse is a less than oblique love song which breaks from its steady, sinewy rhythm into a Jewish wedding dance with bonus mariachi horns and the terribly Belles advice to “be popular, play pop and you will win my love”.
Heeding their own counsel, they revert to more typical B&S territory with the breezy, bouncy, twee pop of The Story Of You, the blithe barrage of flute and acid guitar on Allie, the characteristically winsome Ever Had A Little Faith? and melancholy reverie of Today (This Army’s For Peace), all fine additions to the catalogue of a band who remain in a class of one.
Primevals: Tales of Endless Bliss
Anonymous duo Royal Blood may be the commercial saviours of the rock overground but down in the grassroots gutters there is genuine attitude to be found. Glasgow’s Primevals have been prowling the garage swamplands for the past 30 years and can still deliver a kick and a frisson. Their latest album, propelled by the tight-but-loose drumming of Paul Bridges and crowned with Michael Rooney’s soulful sneer, draws again from the bottomless well of garage rock and rhythm’n’blues, but varies the tone with baleful mid-paced relationship blues Sucked The Life, the good-time comedown of Hipster Beware and a taste of US new wave on Started All Over Again.
Various: Inherent Vice OST
Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood develops his partnership with director Paul Thomas Anderson with this evocative soundtrack to his forthcoming feature adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice. Greenwood’s original score, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, is equal parts beguiling and unsettling, while the previously unreleased Radiohead track Spooks, performed with Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey of Supergrass, nods stylistically to other curated cuts on the soundtrack, not least the hypnotic pulse of Can’s Vitamin C and Les Baxter’s slice of 60s exotica, Simba. Minnie Riperton’s ecstatic Les Fleur, Neil Young’s plaintive Journey Through The Past and the cheery yet subversive easy listening hit Sukiyaki by Japanese crooner Kyu Sakamoto enhance the Tarantinoesque playlist. FIONA SHEPHERD
The Marian Collection
Delphian scores yet another choral hit with this exceptional and fascinating collection themed around musical representations of the Virgin Mary. And once again, Merton College Choir is the immaculate vehicle for performances that encompass the old and the new. The treatments range from the Renaissance perfection of Byrd and Palestrina, through stylish performances of Bruckner, Stravinsky and Tavener, to four thrilling new Marian antiphons by distinctive female composers, Judith Weir, Hannah Kendall, Dorinka Tabakova and Kerry Andrew. KEN WALTON
Alan Kelly Gang: The Last Bell
Nice to bring in the new year with a very neatly turned album from this masterly Irish-Scots outfit, with a core band of piano accordionist Alan Kelly, fiddler Alasdair White (Battlefield Band), singer, flautist and saxophonist Steph Geremia, guitarist Tony Byrne and Manus Lunny (Capercaillie) who produced the album, on bouzouki. Additional guests include guitarist Ian Carr, bassist Ewan Vernal, percussionist Martin O’Neill and the ubiquitous Eddi Reader.
The exuberant trilling of Kelly’s accordion heralds the opening Millhouse set of reels, which sets the bar pretty high as the band combines drive and precision with lightness.
The songs are all contemporary, but of substance, not least the inarguably apt Music Makers, with Geremia’s lissom vocals complemented by her velvety sax lines, while particularly winsome is The Poorest Company, a song by Kris Drever, John McCusker and Roddy Woomble. Reader provides backing vocals on a couple of songs and takes a swingy, almost shanty-ish lead in The Sleeping Policeman. JIM GILCHRIST
Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian: Hamburg ‘72
This previously unreleased live recording made for German radio dates from the early days of Jarrett’s long association with ECM, and features his great trio with bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian in full, exuberant flight. The half-dozen selections include a pulsating take on Rainbow (written by the pianist’s first wife, Margot), four of his own compositions, and the only recording Jarrett made of Haden’s classic Song For Che, which provides a strident conclusion to their set. The model of interaction developed between these three musicians helped shape a large swathe of subsequent jazz activity, and still makes for an absorbing listen four decades on. Jarrett is heard on flute and soprano saxophone as well as piano, and the remix from the original analogue tapes by Manfred Eicher and Jan Erik Kongshaug sounds freshly minted. KENNY MATHIESON
Murshidi and Sufi Songs
The late Deben Bhattacharya, who died in 2001, left behind a rich treasury of field recordings which ARC Music is now bringing out – and, given the difficult market for ethnographic CDs, this is a brave thing to do. Last summer they released his recordings of the Bengali Santal tribe, and this time it’s the songs of the Murshidi sages. Their name derives from the Arabic “Ershad”, meaning “adviser”, and their songs are settings of Sufi poetry; their instruments include the one-string ektara drone, the double-barrelled Indian folk fiddle and the bamboo banshi flute. The effect is magical. MICHAEL CHURCH
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