THE Scotsman’s critics review the latest album releases
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Chvrches: Every Open Eye
Star rating: ***
Back in 2011, Chvrches were so called (and spelled) to make their name easier to search for online. That deliberate stylisation was less affectation and more good sense, as it quickly transpired that a lot of people did want to search out this Glasgow synthpop trio, comprising former members of various local indie bands. To date, their debut album The Bones of What You Believe has racked up almost a million sales worldwide.
The band responded to the instantaneous demand by becoming a hard-touring act, especially around the US, undertaking a schedule which could have broken a less experienced group of musicians. By necessity, much of their second album started life as fragments written and recorded while they were on tour, not generally acknowledged as the best creative environment.
Yet Every Open Eye emerges as a consistent, focused follow-up which should meet with the approval of fans. It is an unabashed pop album, excised of the darker Depeche Mode-ish synthpop influences which were evident in part on their debut, but embracing the chipmunk jingle hooklines of Taylor Swift et al over what frequently resembles the soundtrack to an 80s teen movie.
To date, Chvrches have kept the indie kids on side with their principled stand on group photos and interviews and singer Lauren Mayberry’s eloquent rebuttal of the online trolling which inexplicably yet inexorably comes her way for speaking out against sexism. Her lyrics remain the grit in an otherwise very slick, shiny pop package.
Never Ending Circles opens the album with a dose of assertive pop attitude, while Leave a Trace is a defiant kiss-off coated in sugary sonic stuff. Things really get moving with the propulsive 80s-inspired synth pop of Keep You on My Side and they go for broke with Make Them Gold, packed with the cheerleader optimism of a Glee number. Clearest Blue, described by Mayberry as a “cry-dance”, is a marginally tougher take on one of those positive disco mantras to be found on a typical Kylie album.
Martin Doherty steps up for a lead vocal on High Enough to Carry You Over, nursing relationship regrets and revealing himself to be a pure pop singer with a slightly nasal boy band tone. Bury It is a ruthless pop anthem, with a piercing chorus hookline, and will probably have Chvrches parrying offers to write for Little Mix and their girl gang like for as long as it takes them to produce album number three.
Following these guilty pop pleasures, Empty Threat manages to out-froth what has gone before but there is respite in the form of a couple of dreamy love scene ballads, Down Side of Me and Afterglow, which are better vehicles for Mayberry’s voice, bringing out the prettiness and vulnerability in her tone, rather than the shrill soprano of the big airplay numbers.
Richard Hawley: Hollow Meadows
Star rating: ****
Following his commercially rewarding foray into acid-tinged indie rocking on previous album Standing at the Sky’s Edge, Richard Hawley returns to the one-man Everly Brothers romantic balladeering of old on this exquisite eighth album. Hollow Meadows radiates a contentment absent from his last few releases, but is garnished with a killer twist of melancholy. Serenade of Blue is one such comforting croon, swaddled in sonorous slide guitar. For those who still crave a bit of bite, there is some epic but controlled guitar wrangling on Heart of Oak which never overshadows the beautiful equilibrium of the melody.
David Gilmour: Rattle That Lock
Star rating: ***
Dave Gilmour’s fourth solo album arrives hot on the heels of Pink Floyd’s The Endless River – by his exacting standards at any rate. It’s a close-knit affair – his partner Polly Samson pens the lyrics, Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera produces and that could only ever be Gilmour providing that soothing issue of ambient sound punctuated by those trademark clean, keening blues licks. But there is an underlying menace to the vocals on the title track and a handful of what might best be described as cabaret croons, including the slinky Girl in the Yellow Dress, the sage, aged confessional Dancing Right In Front of Me and the gnarly Tom Waits-style Faces of Stone to vary the familiar diet. FIONA SHEPHERD
Katherine Bryan: Silver Bow
Star rating: *****
RSNO principal flautist Katherine Bryan’s latest CD, Silver Bow, takes music more associated with the violin and adapts it for flute. Her intention is to “offer a new perspective on familiar compositions”, and that’s exactly what you get from her deliciously ripened version of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, a suitably capricious Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, such tuneful gems as Shostakovich’s Romance from The Gadfly Suite and Massenet’s famous “Méditation” from the opera Thaïs, and a flirtatiously virtuosic Paganini Caprice No 24. The RSNO under Jac van Steen give comfortable backing. All stops are pulled out for closing adrenalin rush that is Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. A breathtaking package. KEN WALTON
Yaron Herman: Everyday
Star rating: ****
Forsaking the standard piano jazz trio for piano and drums only, Paris-based Israeli-born pianist Yaron Herman describes the exercise as “solo piano with drums”, rather than duet. In fact, the highly listenable result frequently works up the kind of dynamic that suggests an invisible bassist. The title track, with its headlong rush on dampened piano strings underpinned by Ziv Ravitz’s drumming, is reminiscent of the late Esbjörn Svensson Trio. In fact the album feels more like something from a European label than from American jazz’s Blue Note heartland.
Fast Life is a bright, classically inflected solo introduction, with drums entering for the following Vista as the pianist plays and vocalises over a hip-hoppish beat, while Nettish generates a powerful, industrial churning.
The only song on the album, Volcano, features Icelandic singer Helgi Jonsson in a flickering soundscape of Scandinavian indie-pop, pleasing enough but somewhat decontextualised here, while a cover of James Blake’s Retrograde steers us into haunting, impressionist territory.
Gordon Gunn: Wick To Wickham
Star rating: ****
On his first album in five years, the Wick-born Gordon Gunn consolidates his reputation as a consummate fiddle player who can veer with ease between strict tempo and exuberantly unbuttoned swing. He’s accompanied here by regular band members Brian McAlpine on keyboards and accordion and guitarist Phil Anderson, as well as such respected names as Marc Duff, Tim Edey and Marc Clement.
He combines mercurial nimbleness with tight control in tracks such as the wonderfully skittering Shop Street, with Edey on melodeon, a pairing of the French-Canadian Fleur de Mandragore and Over the Moors to Maggie sees him cut loose in exuberant style, while the suitably animated title track commemorates a fraught 700-mile journey from his home town to a festival in the south of England.
Gunn’s abilities as a sensitive interpreter of slow airs shine in Hannah Mackenzie’s Ardessie, complemented by nice whistle from Duff, and sing out beautifully in his own Rob of the Strath. JIM GILCHRIST