Lost Map ****
Goldfrapp: Silver Eye
Take That: Wonderland
There are bigger names on the release schedule this week but top of the pile which beguiles is the odd and lovely self-titled debut from Manuela, which presents itself with little fanfare and then utterly charms for the next 40 minutes.
Manuela is the latest musical partnership of visual artist Manuela Gernedel and her husband Nick McCarthy, best known as Franz Ferdinand’s kinetic guitarist. The couple have previously worked together as Box Codax and, while McCarthy was off throwing shapes around the world, Gernedel also indulged in some art rocking with Glasgow band White Nights.
Together as Manuela, they bring to bear their ear for a tune, inventive facility for arrangement and a playful approach to lyrical subject matter. Their uncluttered, unhurried, engaging sound – with the odd pea under the comfy mattress – sits naturally on the eclectic Lost Map label, run by Johnny “Pictish Trail” Lynch from the Isle of Eigg.
Gernedel’s winning, winsome voice is the lead instrument, precise and devoid of ornamentation in her delivery, complemented by meticulous, melodic guitar work from McCarthy, as one might expect from the man who writes riffs to sing along to, plus a little friendly input from Django Django’s Jim Dixon, Mystery Jets’ William Reese and Roxanne Clifford of Veronica Falls.
There’s something to entice on every track. Everything Goes and Supermarket are simultaneously delicate and flinty, evoking the Europop dreaminess of Air or Cate Le Bon. Cracks in the Concrete has the stealthy propulsion of the early Cure hits, while the pair have fun with the synth settings on Easy, a diary-like recounting of everyday love which sounds at times like a lo-fi Bad Seeds.
Then, just as they appear to be settling into a style, they throw in some wholly unexpected acid blues guitar on Invincible and lonesome saxophone on cheeky jazz funk instrumental March Against It.
Where Manuela constantly surprise, Goldfrapp seem stuck in a familiar groove on their seventh album. Silver Eye, a seamless, straightforward electro mood collection, which relies on its subtly shifting textures rather than songcraft for any morsel of sonic interest, hardly seems like a test of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory’s strengths and talents.
Goldfrapp is back in icy disco diva mode, a role she inhabits perhaps too easily by now, sounding breathy and just a touch deranged on Systemagic, purring “magnificent” over the prowling backdrop of Tigerman, which appears to be about accessing the animalistic. Become The One is also concerned with transitioning, being inspired by a documentary about a transgender teen, though the lyric “become the one you know you are” is more of a general mantra.
She sounds ravishing on electro lullaby Faux Suede Drifter, though the song is underwhelming, disguised under layers of ambient cushioning. The pace picks up again on the pulsing journey Everything Is Never Enough with its cosmic swirl of proggy synths, but most tracks here get by on otherworldly comedown atmosphere rather than undeniable hooks.
Take That have long since moved away from standard boy (man) band territory to occupy the mature middle ground of the jobbing pop craftsman. Trouble is, with the exception of the eccentric Bowie/Lennon-inflected closing track It’s All For You, the results are not nearly as absorbing as their theatrical concert extravaganzas. In that respect, Wonderland functions much as a Cirque du Soleil soundtrack might – a tuneful and moderately diverting mix of slick MOR pop and non-funky disco with greetings card-style inspirational lyrics which will do nicely enough behind all the high-concept bells and whistles of the accompanying tour.
Rory Boyle: Music for Clarinet
Rory Boyle has shown a clear affinity for the clarinet over his long composing career. The works on this representative disc, written between 1979 and the last few years, are strikingly idiomatic, even where the styles differ as a result of the maturing process. Clarinettist Fraser Langton and pianist James Willshire open with the artful Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano, its smooth fluidity coloured by mild, Hindemith-like harmonic acidity. And if the Sonatina represents the sophisticated voice of the younger Boyle, The Four Bagatelles, also from 1979, reveal the more whimsical, possibly subversive side of his musical personality. In more recent works – the solo clarinet work Burble, the alluring play of Tatty’s Dance, the sardonic humour of Dramatis Personae, and the extended intellectuality of Di Tre Re e io for clarinet, viola (Rosalind Ventris) and piano – the sheer versatility of Boyle’s creativity is impressive, as are all the performances.
Various Artists: The complete Songs of Robert Tannahill, Vol IV
Brechin All Records ****
From Claire Hastings’s opening Thou Bonnie Wood o’ Craigielea, this penultimate recording in the series presenting the ill-starred Paisley bard’s song legacy, arranged by Dr Fred Freeman, sets the bar high. Notable singers also include Fiona Hunter, Wendy Weatherby, Rod Paterson and Ross Kennedy, with Brian Ó hEadhra giving suitably lilting voice to the honest charm of Tannahill’s “Irish” songs. With instrumentalists including Angus Lyon, Sandy Brechin and Stewart Hardy, these arrangements are by no means “straight” trad: Killoch Burn is given a klezmer treatment while The Wandering Bard takes on a swingy strut. The songs, however – Paterson’s jaunty Ye Wooer Lads, for instance – are treated with consideration while Freeman’s recitation of Tannahill’s anti-war polemic The Recruiting Service Drum becomes a moving salute to the late Nick Keir, who sang in earlier volumes of the series.