This week’s batch of new releases includes thrilling jazz-funk, soothing, instrumental lullabies, and folk music that verges on psychedelic territory…

Thundercat – It Is What It Is

Thundercat – It Is What It Is
8/10

Following on in the deeply groovy footsteps of his 2017 breakthrough third album, Drunk, Stephen ‘Thundercat’ Bruner delivers another thrilling slab of surreal jazz-funk on new album, It Is What It Is. The zen bassmaster is once again surrounded by a serious bunch of collaborators, with Ty Dolla $ign, Childish Gambino, Lil B, Kamasi Washington, Steve Lacy, BADBADNOTGOOD and Louis Cole all making their mark; partner-in-crime Flying Lotus repeats the co-production duties.

In the same vein as its game-changing predecessor, Thundercat uses the record as a semi-confessional canvas and as he, surprisingly succinctly, puts it: “This album is about love, loss, life and the ups and downs that come with that.” One of those losses was the death of his close friend and sonic ally Mac Miller, and the aftershock of grief is palpably present on many of the tracks, specifically the album’s opener Lost In Space and then again on its closing title track.

The good times are celebrated as well, and Thundercat’s tongue, as ever, is nearly always located in close proximity to his cheek. Opening single Black Qualls is a criminally bouncy chunk of Prince-inflected retro-funk, while follow-up Dragonball Durag contains the improbably triumphant chat-up line: “I may be covered in cat hair/ but I still smell good”. One to use the next time you’re in Pets At Home? Probably not. Across its 15 tracks of joy and melancholy, It Is What It Is gives you a visitor’s pass to Thundercat’s unique world, and, boy, is it a ride.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Viscerals

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Viscerals
7/10

Pigs x7’s Black Sabbath-esque stoner rock was essentially a bit of fun that got out of hand. The rising success of the band came as a surprise, perhaps most of all to the band themselves. However, while that carefree sense of fun remains ever-present in their approach, on Viscerals the band feel like a much more serious operation. The monster riffs are still present, touching upon sludge metal via doomy drones and fiery explosions of noise guitar, but there’s a real sense of evolution present as well. It’s an album that feels rooted in golden-era American guitar music (the influence of Melvins, The Jesus Lizard, Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth is audible) and like those bands, there’s a sense of the unknown that comes along with the cacophonous noise. 

M Ward – Migration Stories

M Ward – Migration Stories
7/10

The always busy, always discerning Monster Of Folk delivers a prescient album of blissful, largely instrumental lullabies for his 10th solo LP.  Working with Arcade Fire’s Tim Kingsbury, Richard Reed Parry and producer Craig Silvey, Migration Stories was recorded at the band’s Montreal studios. The feel is tender and somnambulant, with pretty much everything captured first take, but beneath the quietude of Ward’s sleepy croon, lies a dark mood, the record his vehicle for channeling the troubling news events surrounding him. Opener Migration Of Souls and the breezy Unreal City, handclaps and all, are imagined escapes from the apocalyptic swirl of 2020. The gentle
shuffle of Heaven’s Nail And Hammer is wonderfully soothing and his take on the cowboy ballad Along The Santa Fe Trail is a treat. Effortless beauty.

James Elkington – Ever-Roving Eye

James Elkington – Ever-Roving Eye
8/10

Since upping sticks and moving from these shores to Chicago in the late 90s, nimble-fingered guitarist James Elkington has become a trusted sideman, swapping ideas and licks with everyone from Richard Thompson to Jeff Tweedy to Tortoise. In-between his production and arrangement work, Elkington also finds time to pursue a solo career with his latest release, Ever-Roving Eye, following on from 2017’s praised debut, Wintres Woma. Recorded at Wilco’s Loft, this fresh collection of finely crafted songs treads a similar jazzy, folk-inflected path as the first, summoning up the spirit of early Pentangle, as on laconic opener Nowhere Time and the epic title track. That’s not to say Elkington is content to simply glance back over his shoulder, far from it, as he expands his sonic template into more expansive and gently psychedelic territory.

Gary Tipp, Daniel Dylan Wray & Gary Walker

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