Lorde: Solar Power (Universal) ****
Jake Bugg: Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (RCA) ***
Martha Wainwright: Love Will Be Reborn (Pheromone Records/Cooking Vinyl) ****
Andrew Wasylyk: Balgay Hill: Morning in Magnolia (Clay Pipe Music) ****
In the precocious teen pantheon, Lorde landed somewhere between Adele and Billie Eilish, with a quirkier perspective than the former but less street smarts than the latter. The innately talented New Zealander arrived fully formed with modern pop classic Royals, to be greeted as a seer by her peers.
But that was eight years ago and the artist born Ella Yelich-O’Connor is goth teenager no more. Instead, she has been living the quiet, simple life at home under a self-imposed social media blackout. Her third album, Solar Power, is her pastoral paean to the great outdoors, which comes as an environmentally conscious non-CD release.
The intense urban electro pop has given way to the space and light of acoustic instrumentation, sweet multi-tracked harmonies and gently undulating arrangements which reflect her love of the “turn-of-the-century beachside optimism” of All Saints and Nelly Furtado.
The breathy title track develops into a gently intoxicating summer groove, referencing George Michael’s Freedom along the way. The pouty California is a ravishing remembrance with bittersweet overtones and Kate Bush-like soaring intervals, while Stoned at the Nail Salon is the Lana Del Rey song title that got away, with all the accompanying hazy sentiment (“all the music you loved at 16, you grow out of”).
She embraces the slings and arrows of growing up (“I thought I was a genius, but now I’m 22”), imparts further gentle experience on Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen It All) and looks back in languor once again on Fallen Fruit, with a winsome choir of Lordes lamenting the damage her generation has inherited. Like Del Rey, she looks outwards as well as backwards, ruminating poetically on New Age hippydom on Mood Ring and calling for a Leader of a New Regime via the medium of ELO-style baroque pop.
In further where-has-the-time-gone news, truculent teen Jake Bugg is now 27 and heading in a thoroughly mainstream direction on his fifth album. Saturday Night, Sunday Morning is so titled for its innocuous mix of upbeat kicks and the ensuing comedown. The freshness has gone, to be replaced with radio-friendly dependability, from the Lennon-lite of Scene to the symphonic 60s soul influences of Maybe It’s Today and streamlined indie rocker Rabbit Hole, propelled by twanging guitar, handclaps and vaulting vocals. A faint yearning intrudes on the general banality of undulating piano ballad Downtown and Bugg dips a tippy toe into house music waters with the bouncy bassline and disco trimmings of Lost.
Martha Wainwright returns after a five-year absence, exorcising the bitter end of her marriage in moderately elemental style. The innate drama of her music is more understated here, but there is still a rawness to Love Will Be Reborn, which is sweetened by Wainwright’s intoxicating delivery.
Vocally, she draws on the mellow conversational rootsiness of John Martyn and deploys a more theatrical, Dylanesque phrasing on torrid country tune Being Right. She picks up the pace with the choppy folk rock and swooping melody of Sometimes, which resolves into a freer time signature and then scurries to a conclusion, while her general (self-)questioning continues on the prog-fuelled Rainbow.
Like fellow Caledonian composer Erland Cooper, Andrew Wasylyk turns psychogeographical stimulation into another beautifully evocative instrumental suite. Balgay Hill: Morning in Magnolia was inspired by his early morning lockdown walks in Dundee’s Balgay Park, with its views over the Firth of Tay and landmark Mills Observatory.
The results are peaceful and pretty, with a gentle dusting of pastoral jazz courtesy of Rachel Simpson’s mute trumpet and flugelhorn and Wasylyk’s chiming keyboard counterpoint. Morning of Magnolia Light is a shimmering psychedelic sunrise, while Magpie Spring is a suitably carefree stroll, soundtracked by warm electric piano and the optimistic chirrup of woodwind.
Camino: Sean Shibe (Pentatone) *****
In his latest album, Camino, guitarist Sean Shibe focuses on an intriguing Catalan composer, Frederic Mompou. Born in 1893 – the same year as the great guitarist Andrés Segovia – his style is beguiling and strangely unpredictable, with the fragrance of Fauré or Debussy, but rarely obscuring an inborn Spanish exuberance. Shibe places him in context, with selections from a series of works Mompou called Conço i dansa (Song and Dance) and the flavoursome Suite compostelana alongside an Iberian-Gallic cocktail of de Falla, Satie, Ravel, Antonio José and Poulenc. Shibe’s playing is as smooth as silk, sensuously reflective, as quietly contemplative in Satie’s Gymnopédie No 1 and Gnossienne Nos 1 & 3 as he is in Ravel’s Pavane pour une Infante défunte and the sweet melancholy of Poulenc’s Sarabande. He’s equally in tine with the spiced rhythms of de Falla, but it’s in the Mompou that he gives us something new to digest. Ken Walton
Katherine Priddy: The Eternal Rocks Beneath (Navigator Records) ****
This striking debut album sees the delicately fluid yet clear-voiced singer-songwriter Katherine Priddy weave her persuasive lyrics, informed by bittersweet love, legend and folklore, over superbly devised accompaniments, ranging from her own adept acoustic guitar picking to full-blown strings (occasional shades of Nick Drake) and electric guitar. The reproachful Eurydice, for instance, emerges from whispers to build stealthily to a surge of sumptuous orchestration, while Letter from a Travelling Man is escorted down country roads by fiddle and banjo. Ring o’ Roses is dark and inexorably circling, while the wry wit of Isle of Eigg recalls a booze-fuelled visit: “Oh Eigg you have cracked it but I think you’ve cracked me …” The closing Summer Has Flown is a gorgeously wistful farewell, her voice dipping and swooping to a crescendo of strings and accordion before fading beautifully, Priddy making her adieus amid birdsong. Jim Gilchrist
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