New Releases: February 21
The cream of the crop of this week’s new releases on vinyl, featuring some nice Bruce Springsteen reissues, Courtney Barnett and the fourth album from Newcastle’s Lanterns On The Lake.
Bruce Springsteen – 18 Tracks/Live In New York City/The Rising/Devils & Dust/Live In Dublin
By Bruce’s standards, the 1990s were lean, ending with a clear-out, 18 Tracks, all but three songs drawn from 1998’s Tracks boxset. Since one was a 1990 version of The Promise, a fragile outtake from 1978’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town, and another the slow-burning The Fever, it at least proved a useful reminder of his talent. The new millennium, though, began with the E Street Band’s reunion, documented on 2001’s raucous Live In New York City. Badlands and Jungleland were especially epic, though the quieter moments were most astonishing: a sitar-focused Born In The USA, a gripping, 12-minute
The River. Post-9/11, his mood changed, with The Rising hailed as a triumphant comeback from a hero who could wear the Stars and Stripes without a hint of jingoism. Nodding to his multicultural heroes – Sam Cooke on Mary’s Place, Curtis Mayfield on My City Of Ruins – even its most chest-beating moments, like Lonesome Day and Countin’ On A Miracle, weren’t overly bombastic, though the title track was exceptionally stirring. Furthermore, Worlds Apart bravely integrated Qawwali voices to encourage global unity, while more of Paradise’s reflective qualities might have benefited the world. These, however, dominated the Nebraska-like Devils & Dust, particularly the morose Black Cowboys, the intimate Matamoros Banks, and the quietly uplifting Reno. By 2007’s Live In Dublin, which offered folksy covers such as the traditional Eyes On The Prize, plus reinterpretations of his own material – including a manic, almost mariachi Blinded By The Light – The Boss was back in control.
Lanterns On The Lake – Spook The Herd
“You said, do I have hope and I said I don’t… but I do,” riddles Hazel Wilde on the Newcastle band’s fourth. Surveying the gathering storm, here’s an end-of-the-world address that finds stirring beauty and defiance in humanity’s final acts. While the songs are Lanterns’ leanest yet, fusing dreamy pop melodies with Paul Gregory’s soaring post-rock guitar, it’s Wilde’s lyrics that quicken the pulse. On Swimming Lessons, she marvels at “Vincent’s starry night with the colour drained”; Blue Screen Beams laments mobile phone addiction, while lead single Every Atom is a potent shot of glorious romanticism.If we are sleepwalking towards apocalypse, Lanterns are here to sing us out in style. “The waters are rising/ our leaders unhinged,” sighs Wilde in majestic 3/4 on Before They Excavate. “Let’s break out the good stuff and toast to the end.” Amen to that.
Lee Ranaldo &`Raül Refree – Names of North End Women
Ex-Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo has been knocking out a steady stream of solo albums since the band split in 2011, usually touching upon his more melodic-leaning influences with albums evoking Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Big Star and R.E.M. Here, in collaboration once again with Spanish producer Raül Refree, he’s leaning more heavily towards experimental and minimalist compositions. Spoken-word segments hover over eerie soundscapes with not an electric guitar in sight. At times, it closely resembles his 2009 collaboration with Jim O’Rourke and Christoph Heemann. It’s full of tape hiss and whirring hums, but there’s also an accessible aspect to it with Ranaldo’s voice naturally sweet and melody-soaked – resulting in a fascinating album that is perpetually surprising.
Courtney Barnett – MTV Unplugged Live In Melbourne
Recorded last October, Courtney Barnett’s hometown MTV Unplugged show was available digitally days later. Arriving on vinyl, the eight songs show Barnett is still a special talent when stripped back. Tender new fingerpicked ballad Play It On Repeat is beautiful, so too a spectral piano-led take on Nameless Faceless, possibly even more haunting than the original’s all-out assault. Covers of Leonard Cohen, Seeker Lover Keeper and Archie Roach are less successful, as Barnett and guests Paul Kelly and Marlon Williams add little to versions of Charcoal Lane and So Long, Marianne that are pleasant but inessential. Having grown up with MTV Unplugged CDs, Barnett understands how the show works: hearing her morph into The Go-Betweens on an elegant Sunday Roast is up there with the format’s best moments.
John Earls, Daniel Dylan Wray, Gary Walker