Album reviews: Brian Eno | Lightning Seeds | Poster Paints
Brian Eno: Foreverandevernomore (UMC) ***
Lightning Seeds: See You In The Stars (BMG) ***
Poster Paints: Poster Paints (Ernest Jenning Record Co./Olive Grove Records) ***
Eno speaks! Or rather sings… While his erstwhile Roxy Music bandmates celebrate their golden jubilee with a moody tour of their back pages, Brian Eno is, as per, in another sonic world, considering this increasingly fragile one. As such, his 22nd solo album requires some lyrics to express his response to the climate crisis. He characterises his first vocal album since 2005’s Another Day On Earth as “landscapes, but this time with humans in them”.
Foreverandevernomore is a meditation on precarious times, the need to change not just our thinking around the planet but, perhaps more effectively, our feelings towards it. In that context, the mantra-like album title sounds a warning note – we cannot go on living as if Earth is infinite.
This is no heavy lecture but a balanced sonic ecosystem, reconciling soothing soundscapes with lyrical laments for the environment. Eno offers up the melancholic prayer Who Gives A Thought with mellow, soulful vocals over a beatific digital swirl. We Let It In starts with ominous breathing, before contrasting Eno’s mournful baritone with his daughter Darla’s floating soprano. He delivers a monastic plainsong for one on Garden of Stars and asks “who are we?” on the ambient torch song Icarus or Blériot – are we flying too close to the sun or stepping out in faith?
The shimmering, simmering Inclusion is the album’s one instrumental interlude, followed by one of the most affecting tracks. There Were Bells, created with his brother Roger, outlines an all-too-familiar vision of planetary paradise becoming apocalyptic hell with Eno lamenting “there were those who ran away, there were those who had to stay… in the end they all went the same way”. He delivers this last elegiac observation in an unresolved minor key.
Most of the album tracks weigh in around the four-to-five minute mark, almost pop proportions, but closing odyssey Making Gardens Out of Silence is eight minutes of ringing ambience with an autotuned Darla drifting in and out as the music starts to resemble a neo-classical pastoral.
Liverpool legend Ian Broudie is also concerned with balance on the first new Lightning Seeds album in 13 years. See You In The Stars is micro, not macro, a personal quest for emotional equilibrium, using Broudie’s gentle yet upbeat melodic indie pop chops as a vehicle for addressing mental health issues – his own propensity for low moods as well as the classic songwriter’s fodder of relationship angst. His collaborators include James Skelly of The Coral and Specials frontman Terry Hall, who has been upfront about his depression over the years and has pastoral pop form in The Colourfield and as the co-writer of early Lightning Seeds’ hit Lucky You.
Great to Be Alive is a cautiously optimistic note to self rather than a confident celebration but Sunshine is a more assured positive fanfare for a new day. Green Eyes references the skipping hookline from Lightning Seeds classic Pure to produce a sort-of-sequel to its youthful hopes, Permanent Danger is a more cathartic plea with foreboding deep blasts of brass, while the closing title track is a bittersweet tribute to a positive pal who has passed away.
Poster Paints is a new outfit formed and nurtured through lockdown by Teen Canteen frontwoman Carla J Easton and Simon Liddell of Frightened Rabbit and Olympic Swimmers. Easton brings her signature Scottish spin on girl group pop to their self-titled debut, with Chvrches’ sticksman Johnny Scott providing the Phil Spector drums and wistful guest vocals from Lomond Campbell. Shimmering indie ballad Not Sorry is the Mary Chain without the distortion, while self-styled orchestral blowout Circus Moving On is an opportunity to paint on a bigger canvas.
Steve Reich: Runner | Music for Ensemble and Orchestra (Nonesuch) ****
Steve Reich’s musical output has been a long-running continuum, where the essence barely changes but the appeal lingers courtesy of the infectiousness of its chuntering minimalism. So these debut recordings of Runner (2016) and Music for Ensemble and Orchestra (2018), played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Finnish conductor Susanna Mälki, are to some extent more of the same, but also a welcome opportunity to hear Reich afresh. It helps that the performances are crisp and intelligent. Mälki lets the motorised momentum do its natural thing, against which the metamorphosing gradations of colour, the sudden switchbacks in dynamic, the circuitous melodic threads, satisfy their character-forming functions. That’s as true for Runner, a five-movement palindromic play on pulse, as it is for Music for Ensemble and Orchestra, which flirts with Baroque concerto grosso principles. It’s like a wonderful journey to nowhere in particular. Mindless diversion meets sonic invigoration. Ken Walton
Simon Kempston: You Can’t Win Every Time (Self-Portrait Records) ****
Singer-songwriter Simon Kempston exerts a certain, strange fascination. His fragile, reproachful vocals deliver sometimes cryptic moral tales and admonitions, accompanied by his nimble, Jansch-inspired guitar accompaniments and occasionally flanked by Lars Rune Rebbestad’s lithe electric guitar, as in Stand Firm As One. There’s a combination of tension and wistfulness to these songs, not least in the title track, although he gives its catchline full-voiced emphasis over Kirsty Miller’s wistful fiddle. Elsewhere Kempston’s wistful musings travel by the slap of his guitar and discreet percussion from Rory MacDonald, carrying the plaintive questioning of What Good Could He Do or the wry commentary of Pauper’s Payday, while A Tale of Two Unions is an indignant unravelling of unequal partnership within the UK. What We Would Have Missed proves a consistently melancholic sign-off from Kempston’s muse – enigmatic and world-weary perhaps, but just sometimes redemptive. Jim Gilchrist