Album reviews: Moby | The Breeders | The Low Anthem | Zed Penguin

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Moby trades anger for more gentle angst while The Breeders are back with their first album in a decade

Moby: Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt (Little Idiot) ***

The Breeders: All Nerve (4AD) ****

The Low Anthem: The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depth of the Sea (Joyful Noise Recordings) ***

Zed Penguin: A Ghost, A Beast (Song, By Toad) ****

Following two albums of punk invective recorded with the Pacific Void Choir – These Systems Are Failing and More Fast Songs About The Apocalypse – Moby has learned to stop worrying and love the world, taking a more holistic approach with this trip-hop-influenced suite of zen electronica.

Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt, titled after Billy Pilgrim’s epitaph in Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five, comes for you by stealth, pairing Moby’s mutterings with soulful female vocals to calming, comedown effect, like a less claustrophobic, misanthropic Tricky.

Recent single Like A Motherless Child is built around the old spiritual lament of the same title, while the ambient blues of A Dark Cloud Is Coming is soothed by cool piano, and stately synthesized strings accompany his pessimistic confessional The Middle Is Gone. The bpm increases a touch on The Sorrow Tree but the light, trippy dub rhythms are as mesmeric and blissful as the rest of the album.

This Wild Darkness even tugs at the hem of Leonard Cohen’s garment, with Moby’s semi-spoken lead backed by a choir of female sirens, delivering the gospel incantation “in this darkness, please light my way”.

The prevailing mood is entirely different on The Breeders’ first album in a decade, for which frontwoman Kim Deal has reconvened the band’s Last Splash line-up of bassist Josephine Wiggs, drummer Jim McPherson and her twin sister Kelley Deal, with whom she trades those signature off-kilter harmonies, while delivering her intoxicating lead vocals as either a breathy, unsettling croon or in tough, flinty punk doyenne mode.

All Nerve is a taut, alert, abrasive album for distrustful times. The band keep the garage punk slammers to a minimum and there’s nothing to trouble the indie disco dancefloor 25 years on from Cannonball. With its Killing Joke basslines, MetaGoth harks back to label 4AD’s dark gothic output through the 80s, Howl at the Summit is punk doo-wop around which grungey guitars circle malevolently, while Spacewoman sounds like a doom-mongering Blondie.

But things are never darker nor doomier than on Walking with the Killer, where Deal adopts the persona of a young murder victim with a mix of innocence and belated enlightenment: “I didn’t know it was my time”.

Although the results are not as dark, The Low Anthem’s latest album was conceived in trying circumstances, following a tour van crash in which they lost much of their equipment. So out went the resonating Americana epics recorded in large warehouse spaces and in came a much simpler palette of mostly acoustic instrumentation with delicate electronic filigree touches.

In contrast to their usual collaborative layering of sound, The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depth of the Sea was written largely solo by Ben Knox Miller while bandmate Jeff Prystowsky recovered from his injuries, and there’s a sense of self-comforting in its breathy, dreamy, sometimes flimsy fragility.

Another serious accident delayed the release of Zed Penguin’s debut album as mainman Matthew Winter took time out from music to recuperate. Winter moved to Edinburgh from Australia 14 years ago, graduating from solo gigs seated on a homemade amp to full band status, soaking up the sounds of his adopted city along the way. A Ghost, A Beast will find favour with fans of the jangling post-punk sounds of Josef K, while the jagged maelstrom of Violent Night follows the Captain Beefheart crumb trail to the more angular likes of The Fire Engines.


Kopatchinskaja/Leschenko: Deux (Alpha Classics) *****

You’d expect nothing less than explosive creativity from the word go from the ultra-exuberant Moldovan firebrand violinist Patrcia Kopatchinskaja; nor is that expectation denied in her new duo release with pianist Polina Leschenko, an equal in virtuosity and charisma. They open with Poulenc’s punchy 1940s’ Violin Sonata, written during the German occupation, and given both blood-curdling ferocity and sensuous bittersweetness in this compelling performance. The end journey is a sizzling coupling of Bartók’s Sonata No2 and Ravel’s hair-raising tzigane. The gypsy verve is teased big time out of both, Kopatchinskaja’s playing of the Bartók oozing colour and energy, her Ravel raising the electric charge to maximum. The only pause for breath in this thrilling tour de force is Leschenko’s whimsical execution of Delibes’ Coppélia Waltz in an ornate transcription by Dohnányi.

Ken Walton


Lori Watson: Yarrow Acoustic Sessions (Isle Music Scotland) *****

The culmination (so far) of Border singer-fiddler Watson’s evolving digital project, this is an intriguing evocation of place and associated state of mind through thoughtfully chosen and imaginatively interpreted songs. With unconventional, often minimal, settings from producer, bassist and keyboardist Duncan Lyall, guitarist Steven Byrnes and accordionist Fiona Black, Watson’s voice shifts from tremulous to sinewy, spinning its spell right from the incantatory Yarrow (A Charm).

She gradually unleashes power

in the dialogue of Hamish Henderson’s Flytin o Life an Daith, and in the sudden soaring of Robin Williamson’s October Song. There is heartbreaking power and clarity, too, in such traditional staples such as Fine Flooers in the Valley, Flooers of the Forest and, naturally, Dowie Dens o Yarrow itself.

Watson has pulled off something special with this spare masterpiece. n

Jim Gilchrist