Album reviews: Arab Strap | Shaznay Lewis | LYLO

In contrast to their introspective early material, Arab Strap’s latest album is more about the socio-political horror show, writes Fiona Shepherd

Arab Strap: I’m totally fine with it don’t give a f*** anymore (Rock Action) ****

Shaznay Lewis: Pages ( Recordings) ***

LYLO: Thoughts Of Never (El Rancho Records) ****

Malcolm Middleton and Aidan Moffat of Arab Strap PIC: (c) Arab Strap 2024Malcolm Middleton and Aidan Moffat of Arab Strap PIC: (c) Arab Strap 2024
Malcolm Middleton and Aidan Moffat of Arab Strap PIC: (c) Arab Strap 2024

Arab Strap continue to demonstrate why getting the band back together in 2016 was a wise move with a second album for Rock Action Records, titled with their usual lack of concern for politesse after a text from the band’s drummer and accompanied by faintly disturbing pics of the duo holding up mobile phones as if photographing themselves in the mirror.

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Last year, frontman Aidan Moffat and multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton toured to mark the 25th anniversary of Philophobia, a tough, introverted listen which is nevertheless much cherished by fans. Changed days, changed perspective – now the fear and loathing is directed outwards. Arab Strap in middle age are less about personal chronicling, and more about the socio-political horror show, while the music is more diverse and dynamic than ever.

Opening track Allatonceness is a noisy attention-grabber, with hammering drums, sludge metal guitars and dark, angry lyrics, swimming in an online cesspool (“they’ve got your attention and they’re not giving it back”). Following a quick shower to wash off the muck, they unleash the electronic beats and sonorous guitar lines of Bliss, a self-styled disco banger about online hate delivered with the air of a parent who doesn’t quite understand, much less like the prevailing culture. In contrast, Haven’t You Heard offers upbeat inter-generational encouragement.

Sociometer Blues has further harsh words on the toxic soup of social media with Moffat almost rapping his rhythmic, rhyming delivery, while Summer Season is about the post-pandemic difficulty of transitioning back in to the real world with “shoulders, legs out everywhere”.

Shaznay LewisShaznay Lewis
Shaznay Lewis

Strawberry Moon is a highlight in a strong collection, not quite howling at the moon but appealing to it. For a second, it could be Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Then the fuzz guitar kicks in and it’s a whole different world but no less immediate, with lithe, martial drumming and a proper vocal hookline.

You’re Not There features the comely combination of chiming keyboards and glitchy beats. It’s a song suffused with regret, though not a patch on the social disconnection at the heart of devastating folk ballad Safe & Well, a ghost story of a body left rotting – “bones and dust and pyjamas, my husk on the floor, a life lived and ended alone… and then they all came”. You’ll need to shake off that haunting with the crashing drums and guitar distortion of expansive crescendo Turn Off the Light.

All Saints founder and songwriter Shaznay Lewis releases her first solo album in 20 years. The suitably sophisticated Pages features missives for her children (Kiss of Life) and her former bandmates (Got To Let Go) as well as guest appearances from her Nineties peers, Britsoul singer Shola Ama and raga artist General Levy, on the propulsive drum’n’bass track Good Mourning, and a spoken word contribution from her smart pop successor Self Esteem on Pick You Up, which blends airy Saint Etienne-style indie pop with gospel soul.

Glasgow/Berlin-based trio LYLO are serious about sonics. Having impressed with their 2018 album Post Era, its follow-up has been six years in the making. Thoughts Of Never turns the dial away from previous jazz and prog excursions to a smooth Eighties sound the members are too young to have experienced firsthand.

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Sade and The Blue Nile are touchstones on the lush, liberated likes of Would You Believe. It’s a pleasure to bathe in the bittersweet smooth R&B and cascading oriental chimes of Hush, and the languorous saxophone and Mark Knopfler-style soothing guitar ambience of A Way The Feeling Goes. Leaning comfortably into their aesthetic, Love In A Way is a bit too low-key for its own good but conveys a delicate ache.


Berlin Harpsichord Concertos (Audax) ****

While Lower Saxony was abuzz with the totemic genius of JS Bach and his cohorts in the golden age of the German Baroque, Berlin remained initially something of a backwater. That was to change, however, when Frederick II acceded to the Prussian throne in 1740, wooing CPE Bach to a rejuvenated musical court. The transformation was immediate, yet many of the composers who bought into this Berlin renaissance remain relatively obscure. Harpsichordist Philippe Grisvard and the quintet of Baroque specialists, Ensemble Diderot, set out to remedy that here with four harpsichord concertos by such little-known luminaries as Christoph Nichelmann (1717-62), Carl Heinrich Graun (1704-59), Christoph Schaffrath (1710-63) and Ernst Wilhelm Wolf (1735-92). The Bach influence is palpable throughout, the works immaculately crafted and with genuine spark and lyrical fluency. Such stylish performances – easeful and teasing, but never complacent – make for pleasurable rediscovery. Ken Walton


Blue Rose Code: Bright Circumstance (Ronachan Songs) *****

Jubilant, prayerful, compassionate, Caledonian soul maestro Ross Wilson’s latest iteration of his Blue Rose Code band sees his songs bursting with heart, supported by such jazz and folk luminaries as drummer Stuart Brown, saxophonist Paul Towndrow, accordionist Donald Shaw and Eddi Reader on support vocals. On one hand, high-energy numbers include the bouncy brass and Paul Harrison’s sparkly piano of the life-affirming Never Know Why, and a distinct touch of the Van Morrisons as Wilson lets rip in Amazing Grace, complete with gospel chorus. In contrast comes the benediction of Peace in Your Heart, the sacredness of individuals celebrated in Don’t be Afraid with its warm brass, while Sadie portrays a blighted life to a sigh of steel guitar. Ross’s excoriating Thirteen Years – “Why should one child go to sleep tonight either hungry or cold?” – with Greg Lawson’s violin accompaniment would tear your heart out. Jim Gilchrist

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