Album reviews: OMD| The Knife| James Blake| Woody Pines

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On their 12th album, OMD link back to the chiming melodic synth pop with which they made their name in the early 1980s.

OMD: English Electric - 100% Records, £13.99

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That once futuristic sound, now comfortably nostalgic, finds its expression in the unfussy tunefulness and suburban melancholy of Metroland and Night Café, as well as the more oblique electro sketches The Future Will Be Silent and consumer satire Atomic Ranch, which make use of synthesized vocal samples, and especially in the shape of their latest historical flame, Helen Of Troy. Despite the back-to-basics approach, the results smack of trying too hard to replicate a happy accident in laboratory conditions.

The Knife: Shaking The Habitual - Rabid, £14.99

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ONE should expect the unexpected when approaching the work of Swedish siblings Olof Dreijir and Karin Dreijer Andersson, aka The Knife, but I really was not expecting this 98-minute double CD/triple LP behemoth of pitch black electronica, nightmarish soundscapes, visceral lyrics and untrammelled pretension. Shaking The Habitual is calculated to unsettle, from the Nordic tribal ululation of A Tooth For An Eye, which is as out there as Kate Bush’s The Dreaming, to the rising and subsiding panic waves of Full Of Fire. And, yes, Dreijir Andersson really does sing about “a handful of elf pee” on Without You My Life Would Be Boring. Without a couple of perversely lengthy ambient drones which deaden the atmosphere, this album would be far less boring.

James Blake: Overgrown - Polydor, £14.99

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It seems that Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, has stolen James Blake’s thunder with his downbeat strain of R&B hitting the commercial spot more effectively than Blake’s minimal post-dubstep blues. Just as one man’s introspection is another’s navelgazing, there is a thin line between ghostly incantation and sounding like the wettest fish in the market and Blake insists on pacing it, moaning affectedly like Antony Hegarty without his gift for melody or striking lyrics. His second album mooches between dreary torch songs such as the title track and more groove-based excursions like Voyeur, while Wu-Tang Clan man RZA does what he can to wake up proceedings on Take A Fall For Me.



Anthony Michaels-Moore: Songs of the Sea; Songs of Travel - Opus Arte, £12.99

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There’s something very comforting, and at the same time exhilarating, about Stanford’s Songs of the Sea and Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, which binds them together as a natural pairing. Baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore does exactly that in this bright new disc, placing them as bookends to other songs by the same composers – Stanford’s settings of Keats’s La Belle Dame sans Merci and Henry Newbolt’s Songs of the Fleet; and Vaughan Williams’ of Linden Lea and Three Poems by Walt Whitman. Michaels-Moore colours them all with warm, rich definition, and plenty of swagger when called for. Pianist Michael Pollock is with him all the way.



Woody Pines: Rabbits Motel - Own Label, web only

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The young old-timer from North Carolina returns with his engaging and strikingly authentic-sounding blend of old-time country blues, rockabilly and jazz. As well as delivering his drawling but at times strangely haunting vocals, Pines handles assorted guitars, bass and keyboards, with contributors including guitarist Johnny Borchard and Felix Hatfield on washboard and banjo.

Pines’s whining resonator guitar and laconic delivery sound like the real thing in the traditional Train that Carried My Gal, while the vintage R&B groove of I Love the Way My Baby and the jittering blues harp and brush work on Who Told Ya? sound straight out of Sun Studios, circa 1950. While lyrics like “Her name is Rosie / She is so cosy” (Keep Your Hands Off) ain’t going to win any Pulitzer prizes, in his tale of Hobo and His Bride, Pines rides those fatal rails with genuine pathos and lyricism, as Lyon Graulty’s melancholy guitar echoes in the distance.



Marius Neset: Birds - Edition Records, £14.99

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The Norwegian saxophonist Maruus Neset has been tagged as one to watch on the European jazz scene since the release of his previous disc, Golden Xplosion, in 2011. Birds is an even more ambitious and iconoclastic affair, featuring the saxophonist with a London-based quartet of vibraphonist Jim Hart, pianist Ivo Neame, bassist Jasper Høiby and drummer Anton Eger, a five-piece brass section, an accordionist, and his sister, Ingrid Neset, on flute. It is a fluent exploration of his talents as a composer, with a series of elaborately constructed compositions that focus on complex developments of thematic material and intricate ensemble interaction, drawing on influences from classical inspirations as much as jazz. Improvisation is by no means neglected in all of this, however, and there is no shortage of examples of the saxophonist’s prowess and invention, or that of his collaborators.



Abduvali Abdurashidov: Tajikistan - Classical Music and Songs - Ocora, £13.99

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Before you listen to this you must first empty your head of all Western expectations, then go and find a place where you won’t be disturbed, and then let the music work on you. It employs the simplest of means: a big lute called a sato which is alternately pucked and bowed (by Abduvali Abdurashidov), a smaller two-string plucked lute called a dotar (played by Sirojiddin Jurayev), and intermittently a singer (Ozoda Ashurova). The musical mode involves slowly developing melody with microtonal intervals which don’t fit the Western diatonic scale; the atmosphere is predominantly contemplative and religious, as befits poetry in which the love-object is at once human and divine. For that is the love of the Sufis, whose religion underpins this music: if this sounds a simple intellectual jump to make, the cultural jump is a vast one, because this music takes us into the heart of Inner Asia.

Its roots go back to the Middle Ages in Arabia, when ilm-i musiqi – the “science of music” – meant a merging of many intellectual and medical disciplines. In the countries of Central Asia this “science” gave rise to a complex and codified court music which became known as the shash maqom – “six maqoms” – in which each maqom was a separate mode. When the Soviets colonised the region and created their five new “Stans”, they encouraged the continuance of this music as evidence of national identity. But they also sought to Westernise it, ironing out the intervals which sounded “out of tune”, and this was Abduvali’s cue to set about restoring the old tradition as it was before the Soviets arrived.

He has set up a school whose students both learn the old maqoms and create new ones, but the music on this disc is largely traditional: as such, it makes a fascinating trip into a world most Westerners know nothing about.