Lewis Capaldi: Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent (Virgin EMI) **
Mac Demarco: Here Comes the Cowboy (Mac’s Record Label) ****
Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride (Columbia) ****
Clinic: Wheeltappers and Shunters (Domino) ****
Lewis Capaldi’s growing army of fans seem to lap up his pathological self-deprecation, yet there is a passive aggression in choosing to reclaim a hatchet review as the title of his long-awaited debut album. At least he’s not getting one over on an old school teacher. But he does overplay the self-pity on Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent and it’s not a good look. Neither is it a stimulating sound, funnelling forced angsty sentiments through an unremitting diet of middle of the road ballads. But the sales don’t lie – there is clearly room for Capaldi’s generic radio pop/rock alongside his bard-next-door peers (Sheeran, Ezra, Walker, Fender). Like his musical hero Paolo Nutini, Capaldi has licked the cross-generational appeal. If only he had a portion of Paolo’s creativity.
Divinely Uninspired is an unadventurous, even formulaic record, with song after song following the same pattern as the singles – a brief verse or so of warm-up before the bellowing pop bombast kicks in. For all his chest-beating choruses, Capaldi is not a natural powerhouse singer, but consistently fails to recognise that there is potency in restraint. So the gentle folky respite at the start of Maybe inevitably gives way to the full flagellation of the chorus. He is all too convincing as the bruised boyfriend on Headspace, wallowing in rejection, while The One is a boring blokey take on the righteous kiss-off songs of Little Mix, P!nk and Ariana Grande, with Capaldi stepping in to scoop up the heartbroken dumpee.
He’s still braying like he’s fit to burst on Don’t Get Me Wrong, but at least there is a moderately soulful sway to the track, and a more open-throated and liberated delivery of Fade which points to a more natural sound.
For those who don’t fancy being browbeaten into submission by Capaldi, consider spending time in the super-chilled company of reluctant DIY pop figurehead Mac Demarco. The Canadian indie auteur describes Here Comes the Cowboy as his “out-to-pasture record.” It’s single-mindedly laid-back, even for this committed slacker. The not-so-grand funk railroad of Choo Choo is slow and repetitive but occasionally he throws the listener a bone, such as the gorgeous burnished guitar on Preoccupied (with bonus birdsong), and gradually Demarco works his slowburn charms with the tender acoustic croon of K, the retro sophistication of synth smoocher Heart to Heart, ideally to be accompanied by the sipping of Pina Colada, and the elegant yearning piano ballad On the Square.
Six years on from their previous release, Vampire Weekend return with a breezy, easy hour’s listening which is the strongest iteration of their bright-eyed, bushy-tailed collegiate pop to date. Father of the Bride represents a deliberate (and successful) attempt by frontman Ezra Koenig to be less tricksy and more direct in his songwriting. The influence of Paul Simon still looms large, but he also cites country star Kacey Musgraves as a benchmark for the likes of whimsical country ballad Hold You Now and the childlike attachment of We Belong Together, both featuring Danielle Haim as a duet partner.
But the band still have some flourishes up their sleeve, not least the quirky harmonic delight of Sunflower, combining the light pop funk of Beck with scatting vocals.
Liverpool’s Clinic also make a welcome return with the Bernard Manning-hosted 70s variety show-referencing Wheeltappers and Shunters. After a seven-year hiatus, little has changed in their idiosyncratic soundworld – no one produces pithy, psychedelic synth garage voodoo with a latent hysteria quite like these guys. Highlights of their latest half hour include primitive one-chord wonder D.I.S.C.I.P.L.E., the menacing strut of Rubber Bullets with woozy fairground organ, and the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floydesque blend of whimsy and garage that is Rejoice!
Celebrating John Williams: Los Angeles Philharmonic (Deutsche Grammophon) *****
The connection between Hollywood film composer John Williams and the Los Angeles Philharmonic goes back to when Williams was a jobbing pianist with the orchestra in the late 1950s, but it took flight when he first conducted them 20 years later in the Hollywood Bowl. It’s a golden connection, as this double CD celebration of Williams’ most iconic movie tunes – as well as the orchestra’s centenary season – brilliantly demonstrates. There’s nothing surprising about the actual music, typically extracts from Harry Potter, Jaws, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Superman, the lesser known Memoirs of a Geisha and Schindler’s List. It’s the quality of playing that counts, a blinding perfection, effortless precision and expansive virtuosity, all delivered under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel. This is a mouth-watering appetiser for the Phil’s forthcoming residency at this summer’s Edinburgh International Festival. - Ken Walton
Còig: Ashlar (own label) ****
Titled after neatly dressed masonry, this album from the Cape Breton band Còig comes well-crafted. Fiddler Chrissy Crowley, singer-fiddler Rachel Davis, pianist Jason Roach and Darren McMullen on guitars, banjo and much else, range with springy energy through the Gaelic-informed musical culture of their island, including fresh compositions. Songs range from the gently melodic and bittersweet Gaelic of O Luaidh, through the droll Capable Wife to Ashley Condon and David Francey’s song of unrequited love, Deep Down in the River. Instrumentally, they fly while maintaining a light touch, as in the headlong exuberance of Uncle Leo’s Jigs. They tastefully handle the stately, old-time air Farewell Trion, while a highlight is the medley From the Old Tapes – tunes gleaned from old recordings given fresh vigour as strathspeys crank up the tension before snapping into a Cape Bretonised version of the well-known pipe tune The Rejected Suitor. You can feel the dancefloor tremble. - Jim Gilchrist