Danger Mouse & Black Thought: Cheat Codes (BMG) ****
Erasure: Day-Glo (Based On a True Story) (Mute) ***
Panda Bear & Sonic Boom: Reset (Domino) ****
Jimetta Rose & The Voices of Creation: How Good It Is (Day Dreamer) ****
From Gnarls Barkley with Cee-Lo Green to Broken Bells with Shins frontman James Mercer, production ace Brian Burton aka Danger Mouse knows how to work a duo collaboration. His latest, with The Roots rapper Tariq Trotter aka Black Thought, has actually been in the works for some time, with the pair now revisiting a project from the mid-2000s which they had originally dubbed Dangerous Thoughts.
Fifteen years on, Trotter’s forthright conscious rap marries well with Burton’s crate-digging sampledelics to create a bubbling stew of soulful socio-political comment which places Cheat Codes in a dynamic, eloquent tradition running from Gil Scott Heron via Public Enemy to Kendrick Lamar.
There is a quiet rage and calm authority to Trotter’s rhymes which Burton swathes in sumptuous string samples, swaggering psych funk, even marimba muzak. The heady splicing of organ drone, twanging bassline and woozy vocals on Close to Famous is typical of their stylish mixology.
There is also room in their musical marriage for some esteemed special guests such as Wu Tang Clan’s Raekwon on piano soul track The Darkest Part or Michael Kiwanuka, another old (school) soul, testifying in a swirl of strings on Aquamarine. A$AP Rocky and Run the Jewels add a fiery urgency to the smoky funk of Strangers, while rapper MF Doom, with whom Burton formed Danger Doom, makes a posthumous raspy cameo on the dreamy spiritual jazz track Belize.
Two more pseudonymous pals, Noah Lennox of Animal Collective and Pete Kember of Spacemen 3, better known by their stage names Panda Bear & Sonic Boom, come together on Reset, another tasty homage to the US of A’s classic musical canon. Inspiration came from Kember’s archive of doo-wop and rock’n’roll records which is not so much sampled directly as evoked on the acoustic rock’n’roll guitar strum of Tex Mex-flavoured Gettin’ to the Point and the delightful orchestral mariachi of Livin’ in the After. Lennox’s soaring tenor is pure Beach Boys homage on Edge of the Edge, contrasting with Kember’s deeper drawl on Everyday, while Everything’s Been Leading To This indulges their mutual love of modular synthesizers.
Erasure take artistic recycling to admirable lengths on Day-Glo (Based On a True Story), a collection reworking elements of their underwhelming 2020 release The Neon, an album which has already been repurposed as The Neon Remixed. This time round Vince Clarke excavates a more compelling collage of sound around which singer Andy Bell can explore his more esoteric vocal impulses with wordless chants and incantations buried in the moody synth mix. Based on a True Story exudes a John Carpenteresque foreboding, while Bop Beat teams cut-up vocals and a crunchy techno beat. Intriguing and atmospheric though this is, Bell and Clarke cannot help but gravitate towards a tune, and the stately electro baroque of Harbour of My Heart and mid-paced melodrama of 3 Strikes and You’re Out are more conventionally structured pieces.
Los Angeles community choir Jimetta Rose & The Voices of Creation sound far from amateur on their transcendent debut album How Good It Is, a collection of soothing, uplifting spiritual jazz and gospel worthy of Kamasi Washington or Nuyorican Soul. Beatific mantra Let the Sunshine In was originally recorded in 1978 by Oakland soul outfit Sons & Daughters of Lite but the rest of the album consists of Rose originals, from the supremely soulful gospel title track to the warming rhythm’n’blues of Ain’t Life Grand. Afro soul number Operation Feed Yourself lays out the ingredients for a fulfilling life; this wonderful group, meanwhile, have fulfilled their purpose to create what Rose describes as “new black classical music”.
Britten/Bridge - Chamber Works (Chandos) ****
This is, to some extent, the story of a viola and its direct link to Frank Bridge and his pupil Benjamin Britten. Both exponents of the instrument, Bridge gave his treasured Giussani viola to Britten when the younger composer left for the US. It’s now played by Hélène Clément, joined in this tribute CD by mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly and pianist Alasdair Beatson. This recording includes the gorgeous Lachrymae, originally written for Glasgow-born William Primrose, probingly performed in its piano-accompanied version. Clément also captures the soulfulness of the solo Elegy, written title-less by a school-age Britten, later prepared and labeled for performance by Colin Matthews. Her viola arrangement of Bridge’s First World War Cello Sonata is movingly poignant, as is Connolly in his Three Songs for voice, viola and piano. Britten’s 1932 arrangement of Bridge’s There is a Willow Grows elicits more treasured moments from this eloquent trio. Ken Walton
Kim Carnie: And So We Gather (Càrn Records) *****
Having sung with Mànran and Staran, Kim Carnie’s impressive “solo” debut combines traditional Gaelic material and her own songs in English, all delivered in her breathily light but clear voice. A core band comprises producer Donald Shaw on piano, guitarist Innes White, bassist James Lindsay and percussionist James Mackintosh, with guests including fiddler Charlie Stewart, saxophonist Matt Carmichael, the Scottish Session Orchestra and singers Karen Matheson and Julie Fowlis. Carnie’s singing curls mellifluously over an irresistible waulking shuffle featuring saxophone and kora in Nighean Sin Thall and soars ethereally over strings in the sombre Murt na Ceapaich. Tapping into an ancient vein of poignancy in the beautiful lament Caoidh Mhic Shiridh, she’s joined on vocals by Calum MacCrimmon and Kathleen MacInnes. Her compositions such as She Moves Me, After It All and the title track are honest love songs, confided straight from the heart. Jim Gilchrist