Lana Del Rey: Blue Banisters (Polydor) ****
Jarvis Cocker: Chansons D’Ennui Tip-Top (ABKCO) ****
Tori Amos: Ocean to Ocean (Decca) ****
Finn Anderson: Into the Arms of Ghosts (self-released) ****
A mere seven months after the release of the wan Chemtrails Over the Country Club, Lana Del Rey has produced a follow-up with greater variety, polishing up unreleased collaborations with former Glaswegian beau Barrie-James O’Neill, plus Alex Turner and Miles Kane in Last Shadow Puppets guise, while hinting at its autobiographical nature.
Blue Banisters is more enigmatic than confessional, however. Recent single Arcadia indulges her talent for mythmaking with rapturous comparisons such as “my body is a map of LA”. The appropriately titled Textbook features familiar Lana tropes – the sultry delivery, stealthy, spacious backdrop, relationship angst and cultural references (“old man river keeps rolling”) but throws in bonus tempo changes, choral backing and her higher, fragile register. Elsewhere, she stretches her vocal repertoire with the conversational storytelling of the title track and her most declamatory performance to date on Dealer.
The O’Neill co-writes date from around the time of her third album, Ultraviolence, and celebrate their loved-up state with little requirement for embellishment, though a sweet brass interlude turns If You Lie Down With Me into a slow waltz at a tea dance.
In contrast, Violets for Roses is a lovely Americana ballad with a disturbing undercurrent about controlling relationships and Wildflower Wildfire features some troubling snapshots of her relationship with her mother. But she ends her glimpse behind the gauze curtain with Sweet Carolina, an undulating piano ballad co-written with her sister Caroline and father Robert.
Inspired by his vocal cameo as singer Tip-Top in the new Wes Anderson film, Jarvis Cocker has prepared his own French Dispatch – an album of classic Gallic pop covers, originally sung by the likes of Serge Gainsbourg, Brigitte Bardot and Francoise Hardy, with former Stereolab frontwoman Laetitia Sadier as his Jane Birkin on Paroles, Paroles.
Cocker has the required breathy delivery over elegant arrangements, and a soupcon of sleaze when required on Max Berlin’s heavy petting disco number Elle Et Moi. But it’s not all illicit assignations or wistful glances over the Seine. These chansons d’ennui perk up with the inclusion of Jacques Dutronc’s proto-punk Les Gens Sont Fous, the Afrobeat-inflected Il Pleut Sur La Gare and the acid pop of Mao Mao, which featured on the soundtrack of Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise.
Tori Amos is on luminous form, calling from her Cornish home to her native US on latest album Ocean to Ocean. Her struggles with lockdown elicit numerous geographic namechecks, as Amos hankers after the travel which is her normal operating procedure.
The collection features some of her best work in years. A swirling string arrangement elevates the romantic longing of Swim to New York State and provides additional pace to Spies.
The Kate Bush comparisons of her early career resurface with the plangent bassline of the title track, the soulful fragility of piano ballad Flowers Burn to Gold and the polished proggy folk rock undertones of 29 Years, with Amos, no longer the ingénue, drawing deep on the strength of her experience.
Fife composer Finn Anderson is best known for his work in theatre, not least Fringe hit musical Islander, but he brings his talents for evocative storytelling, elemental imagery and atmospheric arrangements to bear on his second album of solo songwriting.
Into the Arms of Ghosts is by turns a smooth, classy, lovelorn and world-weary album of melancholic piano balladry, intimate in words and music and graced with subtle but impactful flourishes, from the glistening chords and sparing bursts of guitar on My Boy Loneliness via the folk inflections of River Won’t Wait and The Sweetest Apple to the moody momentum of A Different Kind of Silence.
The Hermes Experiment: SONG (Delphian) *****
The Hermes Experiment – an unorthodox quartet of soprano, harp, clarinet and double bass – bring something very special to contemporary music performance: visceral entertainment. In SONG, their second album for Delphian, the package is way more than the sum of its unconventional parts, which includes assorted music by Eleanor Alberga, Helen Grime, Kerry Andrew and Olivia Cheney as well as idiosyncratic treatments of past composers as diverse as 17th century Barbara Strozzi and 19th century Clara Schumann to early 20th century Lili Boulanger. Many of these are presented in bespoke arrangements by Hermes members, which alone gives a sequential logic and sense of ownership to the programme. The performances are variously witty, mournful, surreal, edgy and beautiful. Not every group so compelling in live performance translates that magic onto disc. Here’s a brilliant case of one that can. Ken Walton
Nicolas Meier World Group: Magnificent (MGP Records) ****
UK-based Swiss guitarist Nicolas Meier trumps pandemic blues with this rich triple package. The first disc is a studio recording with his superb quartet, the second a live concert, and the third a solo showcase. Meier’s scintillating playing on assorted fretted and fretless guitars is sometimes reminiscent of Metheny or McLaughlin but with a highly melodic, pan-Mediterranean eclecticism of his own, complemented empathetically by Richard Jones’s sinuous violin, Kevin Glasgow’s six-string bass and Demi Garcia Sabat’s percussion. This is vividly textured music, the muscular wah-wah of Hip giving way to Middle-Eastern plangency in Stories from the Garden, while the, violin-led Sous Le Ciel de Fribourg is dreamily cinematic. A dynamic live performance sails elegantly through the dark drama of Riversides or Caravan of Anatolia’s microtonal shimmer. Jim Gilchrist
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