Mogwai: As the Love Continues (Rock Action) ****
David Gray: Skellig (Laugh a Minute Records/AWAL Recordings) ****
Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians: Hunter and the Dog Star (Thirty Tigers) ***
Like one of their mighty instrumentals, Mogwai’s rise to success and respect has been slow, steady and inexorable. Now the Glaswegian titans mark a quarter of a century at the post-rock face with their tenth studio album, produced remotely by their favoured wingman Dave Fridmann and premiered via a live performance captured at Glasgow’s Tramway.
Coming hot on the heels of their soundtrack to new Sky drama ZeroZeroZero, As the Love Continues features some of their most celestial music to date and, by virtue of refinement throughout lockdown, some of their most sonically diverse and sophisticated compositions.
To the Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate Earth – titled after its sample of musician Blanck Mass talking in his sleep - is on a familiar expansive trajectory, advancing from a few simple notes picked out on piano to a more lyrical keyboard melody and delicately wrought guitar to full-on fuzz-a-tron synthesizers kicking in at the halfway point. Dry Fantasy deploys their practised armoury of clarity, space and scope, contrasting the clear synth figure with the hiss of cymbals.
Here We, Here We, Here We Go Forever is a tasty sonic smorgasbord of heavily disguised vocoder vocals, minimal beats, insistent, shimmering guitar and epic keyboard. Such a well constructed piece is crying out for a vocal melody - especially when you hear what they do on the following rare vocal track Ritchie Sacramento with Stuart Braithwaite’s relatively bare voice paying tribute to lost musician friends such as Silver Jews frontman David Berman over a fleet, bittersweet My Bloody Valentine-style catharsis.
For the noise lovers, the pile-driving seven-minute centrepiece Drive the Nail delivers nosebleed volume and ominous drive, the foreboding drone of F*** Off Money ramps up to an epic scree storm and grungey rocker Ceiling Granny is a welcome slab of brute force and skirling guitars.
The tone shifts again on Midnight Flit, for which film composer Atticus Ross has arranged a veritable typhoon of swooping strings. Its sense of exultation is complemented by the following Supposedly, We Were Nightmares with the band figuratively swishing around joyfully in their glittering party frocks. And they have much to celebrate with this fine album.
David Gray follows the mellow electronica of Gold in a Brass Age with a cycle of “no-tempo” acoustic songs which have been several years in the conception. Recorded pre-lockdown “in an old-fangled way” at Edwyn Collins’ studio in Helmsdale, Sutherland, Skellig is inspired by another rocky coastal environment – the Skellig islands off the coast of Co Kerry, which are home to a UNESCO-protected monastic ruin.
Fittingly, there is a devotional quality to the massed voices of Gray’s bandmates, who create a soft, organic chorale throughout the album. There is something of the gospel lullaby in the soft lament of Deep Water Swim, though Gray is no slouch on the lead vocals, communicating a bruised soul on Accumulates and an all-round gentle assurance which resonates well with the slower pace of life for many in lockdown.
Dallas band Edie Brickell & New Bohemians are a pleasingly tight-but-loose unit, equally comfortable across a bunch of rootsy styles on their latest album Hunter and the Dog Star.
Heat-seeking opener Sleeve knows where it’s going, bowling along confidently with space for decorative bursts of acidic guitar to embellish Brickell’s smooth delivery. Don’t Get in the Bed Dirty is her slick AOR equivalent of Loretta Lynn’s Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’, alternating between breathy semi-spoken oration and wryly dreamy vocals.
Love ballad I Found You is a southern soul infusion on a warm bed of Hammond organ, while Miracles is still caught up in the rapture, with Brickell as wide-eyed witness over sultry guitar and glistening keyboards. But she leaves her best hook until the end, courtesy of the leisurely expression of My Power.
Mozart: Violin Concertos Volume 1 (Coro) ***
There’s always room for more recordings of Mozart’s violin concertos; there being enough to make way for idiosyncratic rethinks. Not that this release by the Boston-based Handel and Haydn Society orchestra, with leader Aisslinn Nosky as soloist/director, and featuring the Third and Fourth Concertos alongside the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola (with violist Max Mandel), is in any way radical. Yes, she applies her own crafty cadenzas to performances that are stylish, personable, but by and large routine. It sounds like she is using gut strings, with the inevitable intonation glitches that result. There is a gutsy spirit to her playing, and delightfully detailed orchestral moments, but there are instances, too, of faltering momentum. The Sinfonia Concertante offers sustainable pleasure, especially from the lively, often pugnacious, sparring of Nosky and Mandel. Ken Walton
Various Artists: Back on the Floor (Clachamish Records) ****
Back on the Floor is a charity compilation by Skye-based Karen Nicolson (formerly MacLeod), a former Olympic athlete whose life was saved by a kidney donation from her sister, Deborah. She’s released the album to generate awareness and funds for kidney patients’ charities in the Highlands and Islands. There’s a West Coast ceilidh feel to this life-affirming compilation, opening with Skipinnish’s Alive and other numbers including Tide Lines’ exhilarating Far Side of the World and Uist band Beinn Lee’s cover of the Runrig anthem The Story. There are dance band contributions from accordionists Alex MacDonald and Archie McFarlane, including two warm-hearted waltzes written by the latter, a Hebridean Strip the Willow from Fergie MacDonald and sublime moments from Gaelic singers Rachel Walker, with Calum Sgàire, and Kathleen MacInnes’s Tuireadh Bàrd Thùrnaig. Jim Gilchrist
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