King Creosote: Astronaut Meets Appleman | Rating: **** | Domino
James Vincent McMorrow: We Move | Rating: **** | Believe Recordings
Urusei Yatsura: You Are My Urusei Yatsura | Rating: **** | Rocket Girl
It has been a number of years since King Creosote has been entirely free to do what he does best – write and sing unfiltered from the heart. Yet in that time Kenny Anderson, the man behind the creosote, has released his two best known albums. Diamond Mine, his 2011 collaboration with pianist/producer Jon Hopkins, received an unexpected nod from the Mercury Music Prize panel, although nothing in his 25-year career quite broadened recognition of his music like From Scotland With Love, Virginia Heath’s widely seen and roundly embraced documentary of 20th century Scottish social life, composed entirely of archive film footage, and featuring a warmly sympathetic score by Anderson.
Astronaut Meets Appleman, on the other hand, has no brief. But it does have a concept, being a vehicle for Anderson’s unease at the loss of that old school analogue world, as depicted in From Scotland With Love, in favour of what he sees as the more ephemeral digital realm.
This sonically rich but largely downbeat album opens with the audacious seven-minute folk space jam You Just Want. It’s one of the most intoxicating things he has done, beginning with bare guitar before layering on breathy backing vocals, doleful drums, a gorgeous, descending figure on the organ, burnished acid rock guitars and the controlled keen of violins. And that’s before Catriona McKay’s harp takes it to an enchanting place.
While it is true that Anderson’s melodic acuity and his plaintive voice need no further adornment, Astronaut Meets Appleman is full of such embellishing treats. The tuneful drone of Mairearad Green’s pipes drives Melin Wynt and provides a mournful fanfare on the beefier indie pop track Surface. Anderson’s daughter’s baby talk is transformed into a shimmering orchestral mantra on Peter Rabbit Tea.
As for Anderson, he is in exquisitely wounded form as he laments “I’m so sorry I let you down again” on the rueful Faux Call, a new version of an older song, which could have been a wallow in another songwriter’s hands, and then imagines leaving it all behind to head for the stars and navigate his way through his emotions on the wistful Betelgeuse.
James Vincent McMorrow takes a leap of faith on his third album, one which may turn off fans of his earlier spectral folk recordings but will probably gain him many more, as he exploits the natural soul in his tone to create an album which has as much in common with modern R&B as the beseeching Bon Iver-like confessionals of old. McMorrow was already heading in this direction with previous album Post Tropical; on We Move he opens up with dignity and vulnerability to sound not unlike a more extroverted James Blake. The production is silky smooth in places, without compromising the soul of this cohesive collection.
Back in their mid-to-late 90s days, Glasgow’s Urusei Yatsura were also happy to let it all hang out but in a much more playful punk manner. Emerging from the same underground indie scene which spawned Mogwai, Bis and Franz Ferdinand, Urusei didn’t ultimately break through like some of their peers but were, and still are, fondly regarded, especially it seems by the BBC. You Are My Urusei Yatsura is a pithy compilation of some of the session material they recorded for John Peel and others, perfectly capturing the exuberance, irreverence and eccentricity of this effortlessly melodic yet slightly scrappy band, from the geeky glee of Phasers On Stun to the frenetic call and response of Siamese. Fiona Shepherd
CLASSICAL: Better Angels | Rating: **** | Champs Hill Records
The soloist on this disc is American oboist Emily Pailthorpe, whose teasing lyricism, oaken tone and crisp, nimble articulation characterise each of the contrasting works, supported by Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. She opens with the Richard Strauss Concerto, capturing both its quixotic personality and the melting lyricism of the Andante. Barber’s Canzonetta takes us into an altogether more languid world, before Pailthorpe and wind soloists from the orchestra revel in the introspective moodiness of Barber’s Summer Music and the chattering complexities of Janacek’s wind sextet Mládi. She ends with a relatively new work by Richard Blackford, The Better Angels of our Nature, for oboe and strings. The writing is highly accessible, at times hauntingly beautiful, at other times bristling with easy-going energy, and the performance is all-embracing, often beguiling. Ken Walton
JAZZ: Marius Neset / London Sinfonietta: Snowmelt | Rating: **** ACT Records
Jazz saxophonists are going orchestral all over the place; witness recent fine releases by Scotland’s New Focus and Tommy Smith. Now the Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset, with Ivo Neame on piano, bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Anton Eger, pulls off a highly engaging collaboration with the London Sinfonietta. It opens with a solo tenor sax prelude before drums, bass then piano enter purposefully along with woodwind, to embark on a sequence of eight “Arches of Nature” sections which range from dissonant riffing to the lyrical, such as the lovely Circles, with its ascendant soprano sax over pastoral strings.
Following some eerie overtone blowing in Introduction to Snowmelt, we’re into the concluding title track, Neset in playful exchanges with pizzicato strings, Neame cutting loose on piano before brass, woodwind then strings join in an energetic dance before his sax resumes to the end. Jim Gilchrist