Lloyd Cole: Guesswork (earMUSIC) ****
Kaiser Chiefs: Duck (Polydor) ***
Tenement & Temple: Tenement & Temple (Thrum Recordings) ****
No one was more pleasantly surprised by the reaction to Lloyd Cole’s 2013 album, Standards, than the man himself, but follow-up Guesswork owes as much to another album he released that same year – Selected Studies, Vol.1 was an unanticipated left turn from the former frontman of urbane Glaswegian pop statesmen Lloyd Cole & the Commotions, being a collection of electronic instrumentals composed via online file-sharing with Krautrock veteran Hans-Joachim Roedelius.
Guesswork fuses both strands of Cole’s work on eight graceful, leisurely tracks which set his suave songwriting and instantly recognisable voice to a predominantly electronic backdrop. It’s a best-of-both-worlds scenario with the bonus input of former Commotions Neil Clark, who will tour with Cole this autumn, and Blair Cowan, both working on a Cole album for the first time since the Commotions’ 1987 swansong, Mainstream.
His astute conversational turn is showcased on opening track The Over Under (“we could pull together and be half right all of the time”) while the elegant melody has considerable space to breathe against a canvas of limpid keyboards and sparing percussion. Night Sweats piles on the electronic pulses and synth hooklines alongside a wah-wah guitar solo and hints of Sparks’ droll humour to the repeated refrain “everything in moderation, to hell with that.”
Recent single Violins could at first
be any number of dusky chill-out tracks from today’s charts but breaks into an early 80s electric dream of a tune and finishes on a burnished, epic guitar solo from Clark. Its bittersweet tone is carried through into the melancholic mood of Remains and torch song The Afterlife which sets Cole’s storytelling to a classy electronic backing.
The mood shifts again with the romantic sparkling synths of Moments and Whatnot and the wry testifying of When I Came Down From the Mountain but no matter what the musical style, Cole wears it well with another impressive collection of songs.
Kaiser Chiefs could do with an equivalent injection of individuality on their latest album of would-be indie anthems. Duck is a mixed bag, often opting for production over personality, airplay-tooled sound over satisfying content, falling into line with their inferior indie successors when they could be setting an agenda or at least an example.
The Leeds quintet have described opening track People Know How to Love One Another as the converse of Every Day I Love You Less and Less but it rides in with a fraction of the cheeky character of their earlier hit, while the terrace chant of Golden Oldies is a hollow follow-up to previous singalong gems.
But the likes of Northern Holiday make it clear they still have an ear for a distinctive melody, while Record Collection, a sleek new wave synth number on the insidious seduction of the internet, is itself the most persuasive track, with springy funk bassline and tinny handclaps on top.
There is never a bad time to hear the voice of Monica Queen, guest vocalist on Belle & Sebastian’s immortal Lazy Line Painter Jane, and formerly of grungey country rockers Thrum. Along with Thrum guitarist Johnny Smillie, she now trades as Tenement & Temple.
Their self-titled debut album demonstrates Queen is still a country girl at heart but there is no modern Nashville bluster here, rather a sensitively wrought throwback to the sweet and tender romance of the easy listening country crooners delivered with an understated power, devotional and emotional intelligence and just a touch of grit to counter the more sentimental fancies such as I Only See You In The Dark.
The beautiful, blushing originals, often featuring a cooing chorus of Queens, are complemented by a rapturous closing cover of Blue Moon, performed with fellow retro stylists The Strange Blue Dreams. - Fiona Shepherd
Mahler: Symphony No 4 (LPO) ****
“Don’t Hurry, Very Leisurely.” Mahler’s markings for the first movement of his Fourth Symphony don’t fail to make the point, and neither does Vladimir Jurowski in this graceful live recording with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and soprano soloist Sofia Fomina. But this is not a symphony entirely given to the innocence of childhood, so when the shadows do encroach, it’s how they are dealt with, how they are quelled, that defines the success of the interpretation. Jurowski leaves the opening movement almost matter-of-fact – a little too much so for some tastes – which makes it a soft-sprung springboard to the bittersweet threat of the never-too-icy violin solo in the second, the melting maturity of the hymn-like slow movement, and the flighty innocence of the finale, in which Fomina’s warm-hearted lyricism abides by Mahler’s wish for it to sung “completely without parody.” A beautifully consistent, sunny reading of the symphony. - Ken Walton
Alan Barnes: Alan Barnes + Eleven (Woodville Records) ****
A pillar of UK jazz, reedsman Alan Barnes celebrates his 60th birthday amid a superb 12-piece band and a glorious clutch of numbers from 1959. Deftly arranged by trombonist Mark Nightingale, these tracks find Barnes excelling on alto saxophone but also on baritone and clarinet. His alto voices vociferously as the band swirls around him in the opener, Charles Mingus’s Boogie Stoop Shuffle, before putting Paul Desmond’s Take Five affectionately through its paces. All band members show their mettle as soloists, trumpeter Pat White rejoicing over the ballroom glide of Quincy Jones’s Change of Pace while tenor saxist Andy Panayi shines in Thelonious Monk’s Little Rootie Tootie. Gerry Mulligan’s As Catch Can and Horace Silver’s Blowin’ the Blues Away provide launch pads for exuberant, nose-to-tail soloing, while Barnes switches to bass clarinet for a warm treatment of Ellington’s Single Petal of a Rose. - Jim Gilchrist