Chvrches add slick production to their pop sound, while Biffy Clyro are engaging company unplugged
Chvrches: Love Is Dead (Virgin) ***
Biffy Clyro: MTV Unplugged: Live at the Roundhouse London (14th Floor Records) ***
LUMP: LUMP (Dead Oceans) ****
Distant Voices: Not Known At This Address (Vox Liminus) ****
For all their members’ respective backgrounds on Glasgow’s grassroots indie scene, Chvrches have always been a pop band – an apologetic one in their early days perhaps, becoming more fully fledged on second album Open
Every Eye and now untethering themselves from their DIY bonds to allow a fourth individual into their marriage.
After a couple of disaster dates, they have forged their dream producer partnership with Greg Kurstin, celebrated for his work with the likes of Adele, Sia and Foo Fighters. Together, they continue to embrace the brazen pop beast within on their third album.
With such production pedigree, Love Is Dead fits all too comfortably into the processed pop landscape – opening track Graffiti is a prime slice of reedy synth pop for young hearts running free, but there is a darker synth buzz to Get Out, a steely edge to Lauren Mayberry’s dissection of organised religion on Deliverance and a pacey pop takedown of privileged complacency on Graves (“if you don’t have a heart, I can offer you mine”) as a reminder that Chvrches have form in sugaring life’s bitter pills.
Martin Docherty gets his traditional token lead vocal and makes it count on the propulsive dance track God’s Plan and there is a welcome change of pace with Really Gone, an exposed ballad with a pretty vocal and an elegant minimal backdrop. As before, the tunes and hooks are strong enough to cut through the sometimes samey synth landscape.
Another big beast trio return this week, as Biffy Clyro happily submit themselves to the MTV Unplugged cycle of acoustic gigs by major rock and pop artists. The familiar chant of “’mon the Biff!” rings out in anticipation, while frontman Simon Neil responds to cries for one of their more angular early numbers with the wisecrack that “it’s meat free Wednesdays”.
Some might miss the taps-aff warrior charge of their full electric incarnation but the good-humoured banter throughout gives a sense of what a fun gathering this was, while the setlist highlights the strong melodic streak running through their biggest hits and makes room for a new song – strident folk rock strum Different Kind Of Love – and a rare cover of The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows, delivered in a gruff croon and a stretched tenor.
LUMP is an electro-acoustic collaboration between acclaimed singer/songwriter Laura Marling and producer Mike Lindsay (Tuung/Throws), debuting with this self-titled suite of music. Marling’s rich, lilting soprano is unmistakeable as it circles over a bed of electronica or manifests in heavenly multi-tracked harmony for a devotional choral effect. Lindsay is a practised hand when it comes to delivering soothing psychedelics with an epic swell, while the acid twang of guitar and plangent bass on Curse of the Contemporary comes closest to Marling’s signature siren folk.
Distant Voices is a collaboration on a more ambitious scale between a number of established Scottish musicians paired by arts organisation Vox Liminis with individuals who are part of the criminal justice system, be they warders, inmates or social workers. A host of songs were workshopped in prisons across Scotland and the best finessed for this consistently absorbing album.
Prison life has provided fertile material for everyone from Johnny Cash to Nick Cave, but the songs on Not Known At This Address are more about grappling with transition, from the folk confessional The Man I Used To Be, sung by Kris Drever, to the determined I Won’t Follow Him to the Grave, delivered with a diary-like directness by Emma Pollock, plus it gives the usually winsome C Duncan the opportunity to step up to surprisingly muscular electro rock mode on Weather You.
Vaughan Willams: Mass in G Minor (Signum) ****
Ralph Vaughan Williams’ a cappella Mass in G Minor is a silken masterpiece, eliciting the 16th century spirit of Palestrina within Vaughan Williams’ 20th century neo-modalism. The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge – still, under Andrew Nethsingha, retaining much of that gutsy Italianate singing styled under the directorship of the legendary George Guest – captures both the piety and the punch in this characterful recording. The remainder of their programme offers more of the composer’s shorter, well-worn favourites, from the lusty Te Deum, clarion-filled O Clap Your Hands and the triumphant Antiphon from the 5 Mystical Songs, to the delicately perfumed O Taste and See and organic beauty of Lord, Thou Hast Been our Refuge, its noble climax and soaring trumpet solo played by David Blackadder. Fine organ accompaniments, too, from Joseph Wicks, who briefly goes solo in the organ prelude Rhosymedre.
Dinosaur: Wonder Trail (Edition) ****
Their second album finds Dinosaur, the whimsical yet powerfully charged band led by trumpeter Laura Jurd with keyboard whizz Elliot Galvin, electric bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Corrie Dick, delving into the realms of synthpop. Galvin gleefully conjures everything from apocalyptic thunder to the acoustic equivalent of red flock wallpaper, while Jurd’s assured horn and Chaplin and Dick’s powerfully rooted rhythm section make for a compelling and engaging sound world. Proceedings open with the Big Bang of Renewal (Part 1) and end with chanting in And Still We Wonder. In between, Jurd’s trumpet maintains a dominant voice, muttering and stabbing over the crematorium organ hum of Shine Your Light before sounding in unison with electro-vocal chorusing and whooping synths. Swimming combines majestic grace with intermittent strutting while Renewal (Part II) sandwiches funk with booming electronic. Never a dull moment.