Album reviews: Embrace | The Last Battle | Mozart

Guitar player Richard McNamara of Embrace. Picture: Getty
Guitar player Richard McNamara of Embrace. Picture: Getty
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The frosty, monolithic synth lines which bring opening track Protection to life suggest that Yorkshire indie-rockers Embrace have been practising hard to emulate Editors during the eight-year sabbatical which has preceded this sixth album.


Cooking Vinyl, £12.99

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Taking on board the lesson that just guitars won’t cut it in 2014, this creditable recommencement of their career also sees singer Danny McNamara adopt the same sullen tone of Editors’ Tom Smith, although they can’t quite resist a return to the power-anthemics of old with the song’s crashing guitar finale.

The rest of the record maintains this tension between the two Embraces: one, the artisan crafters of everyman anthems of old; the other, a band who clearly know that treading old water is the lazy way to stage a comeback. It’s where the album follows the latter philosophy that it proves more interesting, for example amidst the surly epic I Run or the uncharacteristically fuzz-toned Self Attack Mechanism, both reminiscent of Echo and the Bunnymen in different ways, or the unexpected electro-funk of Quarters.

Otherwise it’s an album which does entirely what’s expected of it, which certainly won’t turn off long-standing fans, even as tastemakers might welcome this release with noses collectively turned up. Yet the racing, air-punching In The End and the vocal soar of Refugees and Follow You Home are well-meaning in their mid-market communality, and if we hear them blaring from the television over a reality-show montage or the closing credits of a major sporting event this summer, their personable if formulaic nature is unlikely to offend.

Download: Quarters, Self Attack Mechanism


Life Without Buildings

Any Other City

Rough Trade, web only

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Before her career as an internationally recognised sound artist, Glasgow School of Art alumnus Sue Tompkins was the frontwoman for the city’s short-lived but fondly remembered indie-pop contingent Life Without Buildings (pictured right). This month sees the release of their only album, 2001’s Any Other City, on Rough Trade, and it remains a remarkably fresh proposition. Songs like PS Exclusive, Let’s Get Out and Young Offenders are raw, youthful guitar jangles, pleasingly devoid of glossy production techniques, with Tompkins’ voice sharp, petulant, yearning – a truly distinctive instrument in a band whose summery enthusiasm disguised a resonant brittleness beneath.

Download: Sorrow, New Town (single version)


The Last Battle

Lay Your Burden Down, web only

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Hamstrung in their efforts to release this follow-up to their 2010 debut Heart Of The Land, Soul Of The Sea by the dissolution of Edinburgh indie impresario Ed Jupp’s 7 Seconds label, the city’s Last Battle funded and released the record themselves. It’s a welcome development, because Lay Your Burden Down is a thoughtful and mature record which merges the drama and scale of contemporary folk music with the angstful energy of indie rock. Singers Scott Longmuir and Caroline Overy are a nicely matched if fragile balance on duets like Perfecting The Art (Of Saying Nothing) and Torness.

Download: None of That, Torness



Chet Baker

Italian Movies

Moochin’ About MOOCHIN03, £17.99

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The soundtracks of five Italian movies from 1958-1964, all with scores by Piero Umiliani and featuring (to varying degrees) the wonderful trumpeter Chet Baker, make up this handsome three-CD box set. Apart from a lack of information by way of liner notes or track listings (partly because details weren’t properly noted at the time of the original recording sessions), what’s infuriating about this set is that you have to wade through a fair bit of uninspiring non-jazz music to turn up the crumbs of Baker, who at this stage in his career was playing in a more aggressive and bop-like style than the tender, romantic style with which he is usually associated. The lovely singer Helen Merrill pops up on the last CD too.

Download: Track 9, CD 3



Emmylou Harris

Wrecking Ball

Nonesuch Records (2 CDs + DVD), £24.99

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Originally released in the mid-90s, Wrecking Ball was produced by the legendary Daniel Lanois, overseer of several platinum-selling albums for U2. It featured guests such as Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams and songs by Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Neil Young – who wrote the title track. Now it has been re-released as a three-disc set, including the remastered album, a disc of previously unreleased material and a DVD documentary of the making of the original. Wrecking Ball was the US country queen’s departure from her basic acoustic sound, and generated much critical admiration. Daringly interpretive, creative and darkly atmospheric, it remains a stand-out example of contemporary Americana.

Download: Deeper Well



Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Concert Arias

Deutsche Grammophon 479 2463, £24.99

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This impressively packaged pair of CDs allows Rolando Villazón’s bravura approach full rein in a new recording of Mozart arias, as well as excerpts from two of Mozart’s mature operas, Così Fan Tutte and Don Giovanni. The latter, although previously released, feature a partnership with the Baden-Baden Festival and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin scheduled to continue this year with Il Seraglio and four more operas at future festivals. The arias, conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano with the LSO, demonstrate Villazón’s dramatic ability alongside his vocal fluidity; these are not just stock renditions, even though the works – mostly insertions by Mozart into other people’s operas to match their vocal talents – are hardly well known. The operatic extracts, sung with a variety of strong partners, are full of vigour and action.

Download: Si Mostra La Sorte