New releases and reissues: January 31
Happy Mondays – Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party PeoplePlastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)/Bummed/Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches/Yes Please!
Shaun Ryder is nobody’s fool. He spent a large part of his imperial years pretending to be an oaf. Unlike many other drug casualties of the punk wars and ecstasy years, he’s matured into a sanguine and avuncular figure. But has the music survived quite so intact? Most people’s entry point to the band came with Kinky Afro and Step On, both of which appear on their best-selling Pills ‘n’ Thrills And Bellyaches. It’s still the most reliably ‘pop’ of the band’s four key LPs, with pristine Paul Oakenfold/Steve Osborne production, hummable tunes and laugh-out-loud lyrics.
Predecessor Bummed hasn’t fared so well. Ryder’s voice and words are muffled and indistinct, the band masked in reverb. Debut Squirrel And G-Man… is altogether funkier, with Ryder’s vocals right up-front and the rhythm section muscular and aggressive. Album opener Kuff Dam is one of their finest moments. By the time 1992’s Yes Please! was made, the drugs were not working. Oakenfold was already booked, so Talking Heads duo Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth took over. They were clearly the only ones working in Barbados while Ryder and Bez squandered Factory Records’ remaining cash on crack. 21st century Ryder would scoff at this behaviour, but Stinkin Thinkin still hits the spot.
Drive-By Truckers – The Unravelling
When the Drive-By Truckers unleashed 2016’s hard-hitting American Band, the gloves came off. A no-nonsense premonition warning against the thumping shit-storm that about to land in the US, it was an anger-fuelled album that garnered widespread critical acclaim. Now, some three-and-a-half tumultuous years later, they are back with The Unraveling a reflective record salvaged from “the wreckage and aftermath.” Opening with the disarmingly gentle, Springsteen-esque Rosemary With A Bible And A Gun, we head out on a sepia-tinged road trip full of hope.
However, the serenity of the Memphis sun doesn’t last long as the hard-rocking country collective dive into the turbulent twenties and its myriad prospective horrors. “I’ve always said that all of our records are political but I’ve also said that politics is personal,” says Patterson Hood. “This album is especially personal.” It will come as no surprise then, that three of the albums finest moments – Thoughts And Prayers, Babies In Cages and Grievance Merchants – are also the most politically-charged, tackling gun control laws, Trump’s distressing migrant separation policy and the rise of white supremacy. The Unraveling is a glorious protest piece that naturally follows American Band, raging vehemently against the machine whilst echoing any number of US pop culture’s leading lights. Concluding with the transcendental Awaiting Resurrection, we shuffle off into the desert, in a punch-drunk haze. Nine magnificent tracks that don’t hang around but most certainly leave a lasting impression.
Destroyer – Have We Met
Eight years on from Destroyer’s seminal release Kaputt, Dan Bejar’s latest release could be regarded as something of an ostensible follow up. His free-flow stream of consciousness lyricism returns, as does a more stripped back solo approach to the record. There’s less full band oomph and more thick layers of atmosphere and immersive textures, some of which were even plucked from previous sessions from Kaputt to create new dramatic soundscapes.
Despite the low-key, lo-fi approach (Bejar recorded his vocals in his kitchen via GarageBand) the album is not lacking in richness or depth. Gliding seamlessly between art-pop, indie and minimal electronic pop, coupled with Bejar’s distinct warm yet cold vocals, Have We Met is his most stirring album in years.
Poliça – When We Stay Alive
Written while recovering from a roof fall that left Poliça’s Channy Leaneagh with a broken vertebrae in her back, she has chosen to use this album to retell her accident and imagine it without the disaster ending. Musically, the album remains in the territory that has become fairly common ground for Leaneagh – a merging of slick electronics, R&B grooves, neo-soul flair and a stirring and often soaring vocal delivery.
There’s an at times woozy and immersive hue to this record, but also at points there’s a notably more propulsive and charging intensity, such as the glitchy beat-ridden Fold Up. When We Stay Alive is best when it’s in this mode, as some of the slower tracks that revolve around ballad-like vocals tend to dissolve in comparison. Regardless of that, there’s plenty to take out of this album.
Dan Deacon – Mystic Familiar
After spending a few years in the world of film composition, US musician Dan Deacon returns with his
first album since 2015’s splendid Gliss Riffer. The restriction of not being able to use his voice in his film work has clearly shaped this album, with Deacon throwing it front and centre here. His Wayne Coyne-esque tones drift ethereally above bursts of squelchy electronics, propulsive rhythms or sometimes just simple and subtle piano.
It’s an album that is equally as beautiful as it is energetic, exposing a tenderness and vulnerability at its core, while never forgetting the key foundation of making forward-moving and sprawling compositions. The time, the effort, love and dedication that the indecently talented Deacon has put into this record, combined with his clearly honed cinematic craft, results in the most satisfying work he’s ever made.
Isobel Campbell – There Is No Other…
At some point in the wake of Hawk (2010), her third album recorded with Mark Lanegan, former Belle And Sebastian member Isobel Campbell disappeared from view. As to why, it’s a story that mixes up the professional (record company hassles) with the personal (a move Stateside from Scotland with her husband, studio engineer Chris Szczech).
All of which makes the coherence of There Is No Other, her first solo LP since Milkwhite Sheets in 2006, remarkable in itself. Especially as it’s a dreamy, even wispy album with roots in folk and psychedelia, as lead single Ant Life shows, yet which also exhibits the sheen of a record aimed at the mainstream without going awry, as evidenced by the US radio-friendly chug of Tom Petty cover Runnin’ Down A Dream. An assured comeback that surely suggests better days ahead for the talented Campbell.
Squarepusher – Be Up A Hello
Since his breakthrough in the mid 1990s, Squarepusher’s Tom Jenkinson has barely been out of the recording studio. The constantly prolific electronic artist has managed to blast through as many albums as he has genres; hurtling through IDM, glitch, electronica, techno and anything else he fancies having a go at. His latest album feels pretty much emblematic of this approach, as it doesn’t so much play out as Be Up A Hello does rocket into hyperspace and never stop.
This album is unrelenting, barely stopping for breath over ceaseless layers of twitchy beats and squelchy slabs of electronics that take on the feel of a video game produced by someone simultaneously mainlining speed. It’s also loads of fun and feels as if it’s been made by someone who still has the future firmly set in his sights.