Bobby Gillespie & Jehnny Beth: Utopian Ashes (Silvertone) ****
Gaspard Augé: Escapades (Because Music/Ed Banger) ****
Snapped Ankles: Forest of Your Problems (The Leaf Label) ****
Jan the Man: Long Player (Chute Records) ***
Music history is littered with cool creative couplings, from Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra to Nick Cave and Anita Lane (or Kylie Minogue) – some were brief artistic flings, others developed into long-term musical affairs. Isobel Campbell turned the artist/muse gender dynamic on its head by writing three albums for Mark Lanegan, while Alex Turner and Miles Kane channelled their bromance into The Last Shadow Puppets.
Primal Scream’s stringbean main man Bobby Gillespie and Savages’ imperious frontwoman Jehnny Beth have also messed with the dynamic of their Celtic/Gallic Lee and Nancy arrangement by casting Gillespie as the breathy, wistful party, while Beth adds a bit of vocal grit to the otherwise sumptuous, romantic mix on Utopian Ashes.
Primal Scream members Andrew Innes, Martin Duffy and Darrin Mooney and Beth’s partner Johnny Hostile form the backing band for this chamber pop concept album on the breakdown of a relationship, adding the atmospheric twang of guitar, soft shuffle of drums and lyrical piano to the John Barryesque waltz of English Town.
The retro references abound, as one might expect from a music maven like Gillespie. Stones of Silence is an evocative meeting of bossa nova and 60s psych folk. The acoustic country soul of Your Heart Will Always Be Broken is reminiscent of Screamadelica’s quieter, rootsier moments and features a great, expressive performance from Beth and Gillespie at emotive capacity.
Gillespie is no wilting wallflower when it comes to pushing his own music, but You Don’t Know What Love Is really is a better song than he has written for Primal Scream in some time, and Utopian Ashes a slinky, satisfying suite.
Gaspard Augé is the (more) hirsute half of supercool French electronica duo Justice. Anyone familiar with their playful oeuvre will spot the continuity in Augé rocking his collection of vintage analogue synths (plus one that used to belong to Yes) on his debut solo album.
The appropriately named Escapades majors on ecstatic arpeggios, fleet-footed basslines with a healthy dose of electro funk boogie and some synthesized gamelan to boot, while its proggy soundscapes are accompanied by visuals of horsemen on the Mongolian steppe to match the filmic sense of scale.
The Moog melancholy of Europa could have soundtracked any number of 70s spy melodramas, while Hey! is an electro spaghetti western score with disco strings, bass judder, cheeky syndrums and manly grunts – as fun to listen to as it would have been to create.
London’s Snapped Ankles are another electronic rock outfit not wanting for character nor concept, though their mordant and pointed humour is more punk than prog, with echoes of Devo and Talking Heads in the nosebleed jabber of their more hectic pronouncements.
Having covered ecogeddon and urban planning on their previous albums, Forest of Your Problems brings town and country together, addressing the pitfalls of our efforts to impose order on nature via the medium of bassy brass, buzzy fuzzy motorik grooves and sardonic mantras. Where there’s muck there’s brass and, according to our droll narrator, “it’s a great time to be alive…if only you’ve got some funds”.
Sticking with the synthesizers, Jan Burnett, mainstay of Dundonian DIY indie combo Spare Snare, emerges as Jan the Man with an album of minimalist electronica composed “before, during and after” lockdown.
Long Player was produced as a personal salve, and there is a comfort and clarity to the stately simplicity of Queen Bee, while Burnett tracks his modulating moods through the angry drone of Dirty Little F***ers and summons the spirit of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the eerie waveforms and sombre throb of Smear.
Schumann & Brahms: Elena Fischer-Dieskau (Delphian) ****
In her debut recording, German-born pianist Elena Fischer-Dieskau – the granddaughter of legendary tenor Dietrich who now lives in Edinburgh and teaches at St Mary’s Music School – chooses a robust pairing of Brahms and Schumann. She opens with Brahms’ Seven Fantasies, Op 116, a deliciously fragrant collection defined by the abundant gentleness of its innermost pieces. Fischer-Dieskau embraces their poetic sensitivity and colour, which quickly offsets the slight heaviness of the opening Capriccio. In Schumann’s multi-coloured Kreisleriana – inspired by ETA Hoffmann’s fictional eccentric, Johannes Kreisler – no channel of expression is left unexplored, Fischer-Dieskau complementing Schumann’s subtleties of phrasing and texture with neatly-gauged, often arresting robustness. She closes with the two Op79 Rhapsodies of Brahms, a dramatic pairing fired by underlying agitation, but shot through with lyrical and plaintive reflection. These are commendable performances, even if Brahms’ hottest moments can, very occasionally, feel tonally overloaded. Ken Walton
Nigel Price Organ Trio: Wes Reimagined (Ubuntu Music) ****
There’s something fundamentally satisfying about the gritty, gurgly drive of an organ trio, and here award-winning guitarist Nigel Price embellishes the format stylishly with saxophonists Vasilis Xenopoulos (tenor) and Tony Kofi (alto), percussionist Snowboy plus an occasional glide of strings. The result sees the music of Price’s guitar hero, Wes Montgomery, taken on spirited and affectionately inventive excursions, the core trio of Price, Ross Stanley on Hammond B3 and drummer Joel Barford propelling things with slick assurance and the horns delivering assured statements. Lila, for instance, whirrs along, powered by Barford and nimble solo work from Stanley, sax and lithe guitar shine in Far Wes, while Road Song sees the trio alone, travelling with elegant purpose. The only non-Wes composition (apart from one by brother Monk Montgomery) is the Lowe-Lerner ballad I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face – a surprise, perhaps, but a graceful one. Jim Gilchrist
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