Nyx Nótt: Au Pieds De La Nuit (Melodic) ****
La Roux: Supervision (Supercolour Records) **
Kesha: High Road (Kemosabe/RCA) **
Ben Watt: Storm Damage (Unmade Road) ****
Though primarily known as a sometimes eye-wateringly candid wordsmith, former Arab Strap frontman Aidan Moffat is no stranger to instrumental soundscapes in his L. Pierre guise. He inhabits similar territory with his latest solo project, Nyx Nótt, named after the Greek and Norse gods of the night. Au Pieds De La Nuit was conceived as a seamless nocturnal transmission composed mainly in the wee small hours and constructed largely of samples culled from Moffat’s large record library.
Drums lead the way throughout. Mickey Mouse Strut layers aquatic washes of synth over a steady but jazzy shuffle, while haunted brass tones cry out. The Prairie opens with a cavernous, reverberating drum sound and deep, twanging guitar, giving way to a classical sweep of distorted guitar and baroque keyboards, while polyphonic sopranos trill lightly before the drums of doom weigh them down on Words of Wonder.
The nightmarish Theme From, with its inexorable drumbeat and melancholic soaring strings, was originally conceived as a soundtrack to an imaginary Netflix show. Moffat sticks with the horror show by referencing the Haunting of Hill House writer on Shirley Jackson on Drums and titling Long Intervals of Horrible Sanity after an Edgar Allen Poe quote. The creepy humming, sampled crickets and eerie woodwind are suitably unsettling but, rather than condemn the listener to join him in perpetual insomnia, Moffat tunes out to the mellow and relatively soothing piano tones of Citation Needed.
Ten years is a long time in pop music and the quirky trail blazed by the bequiffed Elly Jackson, aka La Roux, when she first made a splash in 2009 has subsequently been taken up by the likes of Billie Eilish. Jackson, meanwhile, has been hamstrung by fraught working relationships, frustrations and false starts.
Although it has been six years and a number of scrapped recordings since her previous album, the prophetically titled Trouble In Paradise, she presents a clean, precise and assured face on her third offering, Supervision.
Jackson is prepared to go against the grain. The odd anti-melody of 21stCentury’s hookline doesn’t resolve, lending an uneasy edge to an otherwise funky electro pop track. Elsewhere, the spare funk backing of Do You Feel is there to serve, not drown the song and Everything I Live For carries the slightest hint of a reggae rhythm when the fashion is to smother tracks in a heavy Jamaican dancehall beat.
But while her favoured 80s aesthetic remains strong – her vocals and melodic choices often reminiscent of Kim Wilde – the songs are underpowered, even plodding in places, as on the mid-paced groove of Gullible Fool.
In contrast, Kesha’s latest album is a maximalist smorgasbord of tried and tested current pop trends, from the Beyoncé-style din of Tonight to the playful country pop lament Cowboy Blues.
There is not much which separates Kesha creatively from established peers such as Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry but neither of them can boast guest appearances from Beach Boy Brian Wilson and country star Sturgill Simpson on the same track. Sadly, like much of the album, this unlikely partnership promises more than it delivers.
Ben Watt of Everything But the Girl continues his run of fine solo albums with Storm Damage, recorded against a personal background of bereavement. There is a restrained anguish and pastoral yearning in Retreat to Find, written about his late half-brother, while moody ballad Knife in the Drawer hovers on just the right side of pretension. Figures in the Landscape is a whirl of mildly angsty 80s pop, while Watt’s engaging, McCartneyesque tone disarms on the glistening likes of Irene. Fiona Shepherd
Sibelius: Symphonies Nos 4 & 6 (Hallé) ****
Sibelius’ Fourth Symphony is an intense and doleful expression of the “dark shadows” hanging over him at the time. But there is evidence, too, in the darkened optimism of the second movement with its perfunctory sign off, the plaintive lyricism of the third, and the disparate restlessness of the finale that the process of writing the symphony, even if it failed to lift the blues entirely, did inspire Sibelius to put a brave and resolute face on his state of mind. Sir Mark Elder’s performance with the Hallé Orchestra captures that ambivalence with sensitivity, finding clarity of expression, even blue skies, amid the dissonant turmoil and lugubrious undercurrents.
In contrast, the Sixth Symphony, even though its pages stay cloaked in a thin veil of modality, exudes the freshness of Spring, which Elder elicits with easeful, unforced love and affection. A powerful pairing of symphonies matched by mindful and meaningful performances. Ken Walton
Elliot Galvin: Live in Paris (Edition Records) ****
Live In Paris at Fondation Louis Vuitton, to give the album its full title, sees the young English pianist Elliot Galvin leave his trio and his Dinosaur collaborations with trumpeter Laura Jurd to make a bold venture into solo, live improvisation. The result takes serious listening, but ultimately draws you into his virtuosic, intriguing and at times magical sound world.
The opening As Above develops with frenetic cascading but the virtuosic high jinks gradually settle into more leisurely, mysterious and contemplative realms, while twanging piano wires punctuate the melancholy tolling of Time and Everything, which becomes more animated and exploratory before returning to that steadily insistent ringing. The virtuosic baroque scamperings of For JS give way to the hauntingly delicate musings of Broken Windows, contrasting with the scrabble and flurrying of the closing So Below which, in turn, subsides into gentle resolution. Jim Gilchrist