Roddy Woomble swaps his folkier forays for a smooth crooning vibe while Mark Ronson adds some polish to alt rockers Queens of the Stone Age
Roddy Woomble: The Deluder A Modern Way/Empty Words ****
Hue & Cry: Pocketful of Stones Blairhill Records ****
Queens of the Stone Age: Villains Matador ****
LCD Soundsystem: American Dream Columbia Records/DFA ****
Since returning in 2013 with their most sophisticated album to date, the something-for-everyone Everything Ever Written, former punky pups Idlewild have worn their Edinburgh elder statesmen robes most elegantly. But their hungry fans will just have to wait for a follow-up as frontman Roddy Woomble, who has pursued a parallel solo career over the past decade or so, channels some of that pop sophistication into what he describes as “the most surreal and playful record I’ve made”. He has a point.
For those familiar with his folkier solo forays and collaborations with the likes of Kris Drever and John McCusker, the urbane crooning of The Deluder may come as a surprise. This is arguably the kind of album you might make when you turn 40, as Woomble did last year, although many Glasgow musicians in the 1980s – your Paul Buchanans and Lloyd Coles – were making this album in their 20s, and have continued to do so ever since.
Opening track Look Back Like Leaving is quietly impressive in the way it takes its time over its beautiful slow build, layering on fuzzy chords and sighing backing vocals. Subtlety is the key – the mellow, pliant bassline running right through To Feel Like A Fool adds character as well as backbone. Dulcet ballad Remember to Breathe is coloured with violin, A Skull with a Teardrop uses sparing piano and conversational phrasing to paint its picture and there are little eccentricities, like the cosmic wibbles of Jupiter, a song Woomble started to write with and for his son but ended up in adult company here.
There is more cross-generational collaboration on Hue & Cry’s new album, as Pat Kane duets with his daughter Eleanor on the track Let Her Go. The fraternal duo are old hands at the crooning pop business and their latest, Pocketful of Stones, is an effortless mix of intimate songs about personal relationships and broader social themes.
The title track is a call to the Kanes’ generation not to waste their remaining opportunities, while the politically conscious soul of When We’re Not Strong (“what’s good seems wrong”) builds to an uplifting chant. The commentator in Kane would never knowingly avoid the political developments of the day, especially in action-packed times such as these, but this is first and foremost a lovingly arranged easy listening jazz pop odyssey rather than a slice of soapbox soul.
Two giants of US alternative music also return to the fray this week. In the rock corner, Queens of the Stone Age keep their mojo up with Villains, a consistently driving collection of irresistible hooks from the industrial funk of Feet Don’t Fail Me via the heroic riffing and stormy strings of Domesticated Animals to the gonzo rockabilly influence on Head Like A Haunted House. Frontman Josh Homme turns in an imperious vocal performance throughout and there is punchy production from Mark Ronson, an unexpected but inspired pairing with the Californian desert rockers.
And in the hip electro corner, New York’s LCD Soundsystem act like they’ve never been away on American Dream. Other Voices features all your favourite LCD elements – off-kilter pop, lean funk rhythms, James Murphy’s drawling vocal, Talking Heads/Television influence and that punk-funk percussion essential, the cowbell. The rest of the album plunders just as gleefully from the tribal gothic sound of How Do You Sleep? to the taut Larry Mullen-like drumming on Emotional Haircut. There are nightmarish qualities to this American Dream but at least we know the party at the end of the world gets a decent soundtrack.
Monteverdi: Vespers 1610
The Dunedin Consort has made it something of a mission to give us fresh versions of historical choral masterpieces, firstly with Bach, Handel and Mozart, now with Monteverdi’s colossal Vespers of 1610. The artistic driving force is Dunedin director John Butt, who masterminds a trimmed down version using ten singers, accompanied by His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts. The performance of this exhilarating music – a hugely important compendium of every major style going at the time, from polychoral textures and exquisite solos and duets to state-of-the-art 1610 instrumental music – is both sturdy and charismatic. Butt presents the opening choruses like the great granite chunks they are. His instrumentalists negotiate the virtuosic writing with stylish élan. There is intimacy, and there is universal splendour. The shining success of this recording is its honesty, directness and cleanness.
Christine Primrose: Gràdh is Gonadh – Guth ag Aithris
Since she released her first album in the early 1980s, Christine Primrose has become a champion of Gaelic song. This recording – the title means “Love and Loss: A Lone Voice” – sees her take the bold step of committing it solely to unaccompanied singing. From the yearning of the opening O A Leannain to the heartbroken lilt of Gad Ionndrainn, Primrose’s singing floats with beautifully poised clarity.
Some songs are traditional, such as The Thrush Comes in Spring; others from recent bards, such as Hector MacKinnon’s lament for unbearable wartime loss, Marbhrann do dh’Alasdair MacLeòid. For non-Gaelic speakers smitten by Primrose’s sheer musicality, there are notes in English and translations on her website. Several songs feature preludes intoned by Dolina MacLennan, Dr John MacInnes and Angus Peter Campbell, who sums up in his sleeve note: “Every song and every syllable here is a note of grace.”