Album reviews: Mogwai | Gilbert O’Sullivan | Lemon Twigs | John Mulhearn | Quatuor Debussy

Mogwai PIC: Anthony Crook
Mogwai PIC: Anthony Crook
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Mogwai’s new soundtrack is haunting, while Gilbert O’Sullivan revisits the spirit of the 1970s

Mogwai: Kin: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Rock Action) ***

Gilbert O’Sullivan: Gilbert O’Sullivan (BMG) ***

Lemon Twigs: Go To School (4AD) ****

Mogwai are no strangers to soundtrack work – even their own albums are sculpted as if to form a cinematic backdrop. To date, their music has supplied the ambient atmosphere for documentaries including Douglas Gordon’s Zidane and Mark Cousins’ Atomic and, most effectively, the eerie French TV series Les Revenants.

Kin is their first feature film soundtrack, made for Jonathan and Josh Baker’s forthcoming sci-fi/crime thriller, starring James Franco, Dennis Quaid and Jack Reynor. Inevitably, it is hard to judge its impact without the accompanying visuals, though the sombre, even funereal piano piece Eli’s Theme refers to the film’s lead character and emotional compass.

Piano remains at the forefront throughout but the band slowly layer on the sonic effects to create the rotor flutter of Flee. Their signature soaring guitars feature more prominently on Funeral Pyre and they build an elegant wall of sound with a seamless union of synths and guitar on Donuts.

The influence of John Carpenter’s retro-futurist synthscapes is hinted at throughout before they unleash another in their recent line of shoegaze indie pop tunes, We’re Not Done, as their end titles gallop.

Meanwhile, in an alternative universe, 70s pop balladeer Gilbert O’Sullivan returns, with a new album produced by Ethan Johns, who is more readily associated with the likes of Kings of Leon, Ryan Adams and Laura Marling. Could he be the Rick Rubin to O’Sullivan’s Johnny Cash?

O’Sullivan’s reappraisal is more likely to be of the Chas & Dave variety, not least because Hodges makes his unmistakeable presence felt on the perky pub rhythm’n’blues of This Riff. The rest of the self-titled album is similar timewarp stuff, as Johns simply facilitates what O’Sullivan does best – writing good old-fashioned tunes.

Squint a bit at the smooth production, jaunty melody and warm tones of guitar and organ on The Same The Whole World Over and you could be listening to Gerry Rafferty. Love How You Leave Me is pure McCartneyesque whimsy, with a little burst of western swing guitar. There’s more Beatley goodness on the wistful I’ll Never Love Again and Where Did You Go? is like easy listening Bob Dylan.

O’Sullivan plays the nostalgia card explicitly on Dansette Dreams and 45s, accompanied by saccharine strings, with the lyrical caveat that “I’m not suggesting for one minute living in the past is everything that it’s cracked up to be”. But he could be forgiven his bunker mentality as he lists a succession of social and political ills on The Mind Boggles to which the only answer can be the song title.

In the young minds of The Lemon Twigs, Gilbert O’Sullivan has probably always been king. The precocious brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario have already impressed with their freewheeling appropriation of 70s prog pop and now it’s time to move to the next level with their own rock musical.

Go to School could have been stowed in a vault around the same time as The Who’s Tommy, so sure is it of its references. The brothers have clearly succeeded in seducing their influences, as guest musicians include Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and Todd Rundgren singing the role of Bill, hapless husband to the frustrated Carol (sung by the brothers’ mum Susan Hall).

The book follows their adopted chimpanzee son Shane’s awkward experience of mainstream schooling – a painful trajectory of bullying, first crushes, heartbreak, conflict with parents, arson, murder, all your typical musical theatre fare – and the entire eccentric but wholly entertaining venture is what happens when single-minded creatives are given free rein. Cherish The Lemon Twigs because they are a rare proposition in today’s conformist pop culture.

FOLK

John Mulhearn: Pipes (Own Label) ****

In this extraordinary recording made in St Mary’s Space, a converted church in Appin, John Mulhearn, known for such innovative projects as the Big Music Society, explores the very particular soundworld of the great Highland bagpipe to often spectacular effect. The tunes are his own, with some fine ones among them, such as his MacCrimmon Wedding march and Dawn Chorus Set, but what really thrills is the way the overall pipe sound has been handled. Drones take on a life of their own, booming full on or chorusing distantly, and harmonics sing, in an almost forensic examination of the instrument’s sonic character.

It opens with birdsong, gravelly footsteps and shifting drones, as a piobaireachd-like calling becomes a powerful march. Other rural noises and ambient pipe sound are enlisted, as in The Water Boatman before it suddenly explodes into The Bigfoot Set. Listen with headphones for total immersive effect.

Jim Gilchrist

CLASSICAL

Debussy… et le jazz: Preludes for a quartet (Harmonia Mundi) ****

Central to this release by the Lyon-based Quatuor Debussy (Debussy Quartet) and friends is the pretext that “Debussy may not have made his way to jazz, but jazz certainly made its way to Debussy.” So what they give us is a series of performances that reset some of composer’s Preludes within breathy arrangements that range from simple easy listening to quirks of instrumental colour that throw original light on the music.

Take the shimmering, glissandoing strings, extended piano ostinati and jazzed up deviations that form a thrilling expansion of La Cathédrale engloutie, or the jagged accordion blasts that turn General Lavine – part of an opening mélange of Preludes called “C” Influences – into something more Piazzolla than Debussy.

These are two of the extended tracks among many smaller ones, all of which capture the essence of Debussy, but in a way that is full of surprises, full of jazz.

Ken Walton