Album reviews: Christine and the Queens | Nas | Bis | Kapil Seshasayee
Christine and the Queens: Redcar Les Adorable Étoiles (Because Music) ****
Nas: King’s Disease III (Mass Appeal Records) ****
Bis: Systems Music For Home Defence (Last Night From Glasgow) ****
Kapil Seshasayee: Laal (self-released) ****
Just as Parisian pop star Héloise Letissier is transitioning in life, so his Christine and the Queens outlet has evolved from androgynous second album Chris to the masculine alter ego of Redcar, who sings of lost and broken love on this taster concept album, written and recorded in a mere two weeks with slippery but intriguing results.
On the sleeve, Redcar manifests as a slicked-back lounge lizard type in a budget Roxy Music video. On the album, he is wistful rock chanteur on Ma bien aimée bye bye, lustful lothario on the soft industrial rock of Tu sais ce qu’il me faut, in rapturous falsetto on sleek electronica lullaby La chanson du chevalier and a combination of all three on Les étoiles.
The fluttering falsetto funk of Memoire des ailes recalls Prince in his floatier moments; pop chanson number Je te voie enfin makes sultry use of his rich alto tones. Elsewhere, Letissier tries on the airy electro of Rien dire, trippy soul of My Birdman and yearns at length on the dubby Combien de Temps.
Redcar is a handbrake turn for Letissier. The lack of slick synth pop hits may well be perplexing to fans of the first two albums, but Redcar is a more dramatic and dynamic proposition which, according to Letissier, is an initial primer for further character action.
Soulful rap crusader Nas is on a roll, completing his King’s Disease trilogy in two years – even sneaking in another album, Magic, at the end of 2021. King’s Disease III features none of your typical hip-hop guest appearances, and no songwriting by committee, just a fertile, streamlined partnership with producer Hit-Boy.
There are warm words for another, more mainstream, creative pairing on Michael & Quincey – the Jackson/Jones teamed produced a couple of all-time classics. Nas, meanwhile, seems unconcerned with commercial performance; instead his running theme here is moving with the times, while imparting some of his experience and wisdom – as such, he looks backwards and forwards over a pitch-shifted Mary J Blige sample and synth arpeggios on album standout Reminisce.
Although musically an entirely different beast, there is a similar confidence and maturity to the latest album by Glasgow indie pop trio Bis, who sound entirely at ease raiding their synth pop junkyard to produce the catchy toytown disco of Lucky Night, declamatory electro pop punk of Shopping For Tattoos and the pugnacious rap meets Italo rave of (I Got My) Independence.
The Safe Routines is silky synth pop with some deliberately frayed edges, while The Lookback is a luxurious blend of 80s retro-futuristic sophisto-pop and glacial techno. X-Ray Spex have always been a touchstone for Manda Rin; here the band sounds more like an amped-up B-52s, breaking some new ground on their most varied and satisfying collection yet.
Glasgow-based multi-instrumentalist Kapil Seshasayee is on part two of his planned Desifuturist trilogy on key aspects of Indian culture. Debut album A Sacred Bore interrogated the caste system; now follow-up Laal gets under the skin of the blockbusting Bollywood film industry, exposing harmful traditions such as inaccurate portrayals of religious culture, the censorship of LBGTQ+ voices and the stock female role of the item girl, who is required to look pretty and do little else.
Seshasayee’s ire is delivered in sweet, soulful tones over beefy electro jazz and propulsive heavy synth rock. Pakistan’s Daranti Group provide guttural rap vocals on Rupture of the Wheel and, on I Whitewash the Old West, exultant synth arpeggios give way to one of the purest pop tunes on the album.
Matthew Kaner: Chamber Music (Delphian) *****
Glints in The Water; Searching For The Dimmest Stars; The Kestrel; Fireside Tale – all descriptive movement titles to works generically labelled by composer Matthew Kaner as, say, Piano Trio or Flight Studies for Basset Clarinet. Yet they are key in defining the ultra-perceptive imagery, textural delicacy and illuminating precision of this evocative chamber music by the 36-year-old Londoner, performed by the Goldfield Ensemble with help from cellists Guy Johnson and Matthias Balzat, basset clarinettist Mark Simpson, violinist Benjamin Baker and pianist Daniel Lebhardt. They present such highly imaginative and truly picturesque music with adeptness and affection, from the spectral reflectiveness of Suite for Solo Cello and flecked tracery of Five Highland Scenes, to the overriding quiescence of the Piano Trio, the dreamy intricacy of At Night for Clarinet Quintet, and the swooping virtuosity of Flight Studies. Kaner is a composer worth getting to know better. Ken Walton
Elizabeth Davidson-Blythe & Daniel Quayle: The Coast Road (Scarleod Records) ****
This impressive debut album comes from Boston-born fiddle player Elizabeth Davidson-Blythe and Manx multi-instrumentalist Daniel Quayle, featuring numerous compositions by Davidson-Blythe, influenced by Manx, Scottish and particularly Irish music. The dramatic opener sets the tone, a forceful set of reels bowed over driving guitar and augmented by Manx fiddler Tomás Callister. The Irish accent is cranked up a level as they are joined by banjoist Ciarán Ryan, who adds percussive edge to The Train. There is sprightly jig playing in the Daybreak set, again with nicely syncopated guitar, while a respite from high energy comes with the song-like stroll of 128 South and in Davidson-Blythe’s lovely air, For Ewen, warmly cusped in a string arrangement by David Kilgallon. The closing title track includes two Irish classics, Wynne’s No. 2 and The Contradiction, with Ryan’s banjo rejoining them for an exhilarating final fling. Jim Gilchrist