Album reviews: Django Django | Karen Matheson | John Carpenter | The Weather Station

For a little musical escapism to take your mind off the pandemic, look no further than the pleasant sonic scenery of Django Django’s new album, writes Fiona Shepherd

Django Django

Django Django; Glowing in the Dark (Because Music) ****

Karen Matheson: Still Time (Vertical Records) ****

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John Carpenter: Lost Themes III: Alive After Death (Sacred Bones) ****

Karen Matheson

The Weather Station: Ignorance (Fat Possum) ****

Three years on from their third album, Marble Skies, the Edinburgh-born, London-based indie adventurers Django Django once more have lift-off. For the band, the guiding theme of fourth album Glowing in the Dark is escapism. Yes please to that in times like these.

It almost feels like a guilty pleasure to revel in an album of music for music’s sake – no angry critiques, no messages of succour, just a breezy jaunt with plenty of sonic scenery to enjoy on the road out of your head.

DNA-referencing opener Spirals revs into view with an accelerating synth arpeggio bearing Vincent Neff’s fleet vocals aloft on a bed of deep, springy bass. Right the Wrongs is spikier, punkier, but still pushing ever upwards – a head-nodder if not quite a headbanger.

John Carpenter

Their trademark aural pick’n’mix continues through the skiffly shuffle and cosmic rock’n’roll of Got Me Worried, the harmonic psychedelic pop of Night of the Buffalo and the slightly heavier instrumental trip of The Ark.

Mostly, this is dreamy, mildly intoxicating stuff. The never knowingly overstated Charlotte Gainsbourg joins Neff for a breathy duet on acoustic canter Waking Up, while there is something of the whimsy of Syd Barratt in the vocals and wilting strings of psych folk strum The World Will Turn.

The band also showcase their playful streak in the stuttering chorus of the title track and the twanging funk exorcism of Kick the Devil Out before they finish up on the indie dancefloor busting some carefree moves to the blithe dance pop of Asking for More.

In contrast to her 2015 Gaelic album Urran, on which Karen Matheson revisited the songs which soundtracked her childhood, the Capercaillie frontwoman’s latest solo album is more of a musical smorgasbord, featuring songs old and new from Scotland, Ireland and the US, with lyrics in English.

It is sheer pleasure to hear her in classy pop mode on James Grant’s Cassiopeia Coming Through, accompanied by lyrical piano, soulful horn break and the soft brush on the drums. Three other Grant-penned songs feature, including thoughtful anti-war lullaby The Glory Demon and Little Gun, a tender song of parenthood, while Matheson’s partner and fellow Capercaillie member Donald Shaw supplies the soothing, saxophone-embellished meditation of the title track.

The lovelorn Robert Burns is a safe haven, likewise the familiar social history of early Runrig track Recovery, while Matheson brings her usual integrity to The Aragon Mill’s universal lament for lost culture, Orphan Girl’s tale of Irish orphans relocating to Australia and a bluegrass take on Childe ballad The Diamond Ring.

Cult horror maestro John Carpenter is on a roll, composing the “soundtrack for the movies in your mind” – provided that movie could be accompanied by hokey horror titles such as Dripping Blood, Vampire’s Touch and Carpathian Darkness.

Working again with son Cody Carpenter, the 73-year-old layers on the doom without the need to sync to live action. Among the highlights of this third edition of Lost Themes is the aqueous flow of the title track, rudely interrupted by the gurning rock guitar of godson Daniel Davies, the propulsive judder of Weeping Ghost with its bassy menace, strident piano chords and celestial burst of synthesizers and the spectral choral Dead Eyes, which could have been plucked right out of a Dario Argento joint.

Toronto musician Tamara Lindeman is attracting admiring glances for her fifth album as The Weather Station on which she wafts away from her folkier roots into a world of grown-up pop music – think the smooth alto croon of Julia Fordham or Kate Bush’s The Sensual World. Though never as rapturous or elemental as the latter, there is a well of controlled emotion just below the surface of Ignorance, which is ultimately beguiling.

CLASSICAL

Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos 9 & 10 (LSO Live) *****

Gianandrea Noseda’s march through the Shostakovich symphonies with the LSO continues apace with a boisterous coupling of the Ninth and Tenth. Nothing better sets up the fullest impact of the latter, with its supposed dig at Stalin, than a Ninth that effectively elicits its tangle of barbed mischief and darker reflections. Noseda does just that, countering roguish urgency with an Adagio that almost terrifies, cut short by the puckish emergence of the finale. If the Tenth displays its own fitful tendencies, they are packed with a vicious punch and ultimately concealed within broader symphonic sweeps and the overwhelming shadow of uncertainty felt by Russians in the wake of Stalin’s death. The opening movement is a towering expression of that foreboding, its seismic release in the explosive Allegro euphoric in its brevity and pointing the way forward to greater self-affirmation (the composer’s signatory DSCH motif doggedly appears), even a final jab of wit. Ken Walton

JAZZ

QOW Trio (Ubuntu Music) ****

Inspired by Sonny Rollins’s piano-less trios of the Fifties, the multi-generational trio of tenor saxophonist Riley Stone Lonergan, double bassist Eddie Myer and drummer Spike Wells embark on their robust, chordless adventures with relish and palpable empathy, starting as they mean to go on with Lonergan’s beefy sax intoning Slow Boat to China, double bass and drums sloping easily alongside. The eponymous Dewy Redman number, QOW, enjoys similar gusto, insistently rolling bass and saxophone yelling growly split tones, while they attack Cole Porter’s It’s All Right With Me with headlong, bass and drum-driven energy. Lonergan’s own Qowfirmation is a rangy, straight-ahead excursion, perhaps reflecting the spark which clearly informed their singe afternoon’s recording session. Another Lonergan composition, Pound for Prez, rides a limber walking bass while, in contrast to much of the album, the saxophonist imbues the Billie Holiday ballad God Bless the Child with lingering, eloquent tenderness. Jim Gilchrist

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