New Releases: 8th November
Overwhelmed by this week’s new releases? Not to worry. Here’s a comprehensive list of Long Live Vinyl’s top picks…
01 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
On Fireflies, sequenced as the penultimate track on new album Ghosteen, Nick Cave goes, not for the first time on an extraordinary LP, to the heart of the matter. “We are here and you are where you are,” Cave speak-sings. It’s a line that’s impossible to hear without immediately thinking back to the tragedy of the accidental death of Cave’s teenage son, Arthur.
Faced with such a devastating event, many would have hidden. Cave has done the opposite. Having spent long years building a persona that was a mix of brimstone preacher, sinister carny and lovelorn troubadour, the latter-day Cave is a man who, via his Red Hand Files website, says: “You can ask me anything,” and whose most recent shows have brought the same premise into a concert setting. As to why he’s done this, the need for connection appears paramount. “We all needed to draw ourselves back to a state of wonder,” Cave has said of his family’s grief. “My way was to write myself there.”
In this context, one way to understand Ghosteen’s structure – a double LP, the songs on the first album are “children”, on the second “parents”, Cave has stated – is to see the first disc as Cave reaching for this state of wonder. The images on these songs are often as fantastical as the album’s bucolic-kitsch cover. In Sun Forest, children spiral upwards, the steeds of Bright Horses burn with intensity, while Galleon Ships “circle around the morning sun”.
The songs’ arrangements, with their use of swirling electronics, recall Skeleton Tree. And yet Cave and his trusted lieutenant Warren Ellis aren’t repeating themselves. If Skeleton Tree was as stark as the title suggests, there’s now an analogue warmth to the synths and loops that recalls Kraftwerk and Berlin-era Bowie, even prog rock.
All of which might be too much if it weren’t for Cave sometimes breaking the fourth wall, undercutting himself. Those Bright Horses, he declares at one point, “are just horses”. Wonder, perhaps, is something you can touch fleetingly, but not without the workaday world eventually intruding.
As for the three songs that conclude the album, the parents, these seem more concerned with the darkest moments of grief. On Ghosteen, “Baby Bear he has gone.” For Hollywood, Cave mixes up a road-movie narrative with the story of Kisa Gotami, a woman who went to see the Buddha after losing her child.
It’s the last song, but it’s tempting to see it as the key to what’s gone before, the linking point between the grief and the wonder. Further, while recurring characters from Cave’s work, Elvis and Jesus, make appearances on Ghosteen. It’s a song that represents how there’s a sense throughout of Cave looking for new stories, new approaches. Why? Maybe because his songwriting tropes and those familiar characters are no longer adequate to grappling with what’s happened.
With all your heart, you wish circumstances were such that it didn’t have to be this way, and yet Cave’s insistence on reaching for the wonder is, in itself, wondrous. – 9/10
02 FKA Twigs – Magdalene
If FKA Twigs’ second album seems fragmented, it was recorded when she felt broken, both emotionally and physically. What Magdalene does, though, is put those pieces back together. It is, of course, challenging, but, in its translucent emotional articulacy and intricate production, it often brings to mind Björk’s majestic Vespertine.
In fact, this is the sound of Tahliah Barnett declaring these days, “A woman’s time to embrace/ She must put herself first”, and these lines from the title track define the entire album. Thousand Eyes blends kettle drums, muffled electronic chords and shimmering choral vocals, and her voice on Sad Day and torch song Daybed is painfully intimate. On Cellophane, her voice scales impossible heights, while Home With You and Mirrored Heart, whose piano echoes Radiohead, overflow with impassioned drama. – 8/10
03 Bonnie “Prince” Billy – I Made A Place
The first Bonnie “Prince” Billy album of full originals in just over eight years sees Will Oldham backed by a Louisville band that includes guitarist Nathan Salsburg, drummer Mike Hyman and singer-songwriter Joan Shelley. The album was inspired by an extended stay in Hawaii, where he and his wife took up artist-in-residency positions.
The warm air and lush surroundings seem to have done the restless performer a world of good, and while the songs still possess a familiar under-the-surface darkness, large chinks of light shine ebulliently through. There is a directness of approach to I Made A Place that makes it an anxiety-free and calm, joyful listen. Oldham’s lyrics are as warmly humane and whip-smart as ever, particularly on opener New Memory Box and the countrified Look Backwards On Your Future, Look Forward To Your Past. – 8/10
04 Girl Ray – Girl
Pop has always been a crucial ingredient to the output of Girl Ray, even in their previous more lo-fi and indie-leaning incarnation, there was still an unshakable sparkle of melody that ran through it all. Now, with Ariana Grande acknowledged as a chief influence, pop is no longer considered a supplementary strand, but much more of a vital ingredient that the band have fully embraced.
This album is a slick, smooth, heavily produced glossy piece of unabashed and unashamed chart music. The opening title track sways and croons along with an almost R&B-esque flavour, and this sets the tone for a record full of glistening synth lines, disco strutting guitar parts, streamlined vocals, endless hooks and melodies that gleam. It’s a brave transition that they have not only made seamlessly well, but one that feels as slick as their new-found sound. – 7/10
05 Xylouris White – The Sisypheans
There are few things in life as satisfying as watching and hearing Jim “the human octopus” White drum. He’s an endlessly innovative player, who switches between deft restraint and wild abandon with a faultless grace. In his now long-standing collaboration with Greek lute player Giorgos Xylouris, he has found an ideal home and partner for such playing outside of the Dirty Three.
Produced by Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto and featuring Xylouris’ son on cello, this is one of the quieter releases the band have made. Slow, unravelling grooves and chant-like singing interweave to create an album that grows carefully and thoughtfully, endlessly exploring the space, tension and release between their instruments. For a duo so clearly in tune with one another, they also manage to feel endlessly loose and exploratory here. – 8/10
Daniel Dylan Wray, Gary Tipp, Wyndham Wallace, Jonathan Wright