Albums Of The Month
1. Charles Bradley – Changes
If Wilson Pickett could cover the Archies and Al Green could interpret the Bee Gees, why shouldn’t Charles Bradley put his spin on Black Sabbath? Bradley’s deep, soulful reading of Black Sabbath’s “Changes” (from 1972’s Vol. 4) became something of a viral sensation when it first surfaced on a Record Store Day single in 2013. Now it’s become the title track and cornerstone of Bradley’s third album, and in this context it doesn’t sound like a novelty, but like the striking, deeply felt performance it truly is. As on his two previous albums, Bradley is one of the most authentic-sounding artists in the 2010s retro-soul sweepstakes on Changes. The production by Thomas Brenneck is straightforward but naturalistically effective, and puts Bradley’s rough but passionate vocals in engaging relief with the accompanists. (Most of the album features the Menahan Street Band backing Bradley, though the Budos Band does the honors on two cuts.) Most of the songs on Changes are new, but they sound like they could have been prize Atlantic or Stax rarities from the mid-’60s, and the performances honour the sound and the emotional power of classic soul. Bradley spent years imitating James Brown, and the influence of Mr. Dynamite is still audible on many of these tunes. But since he launched his belated recording career, Bradley has developed a greater sense of self and more confidence in his own musical personality. On Changes, the rough-hewn power of Bradley’s voice is at its most powerful, and there’s a fierce sense of longing and need in this music that’s almost tactile in its realism. Charles Bradley doesn’t sound like a ’60 soul singer, he sounds like a great soul singer regardless of era. And Changes shows Bradley still has plenty of new ground to explore at the age of 68.
2. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
His third full-length in as many years, A Sailor’s Guide is a dedication to his 2-year-old son, and it operates—somewhat obviously—as a pragmatic series of advisory letters to aid the process of growing up and discovering the world. Simpson may be an esteemed writer and top-notch performer, but A Sailor’s Guide takes massive strides to show that no title on earth will ever suit him as finely as “father” does. And fatherly advice has never sounded this gorgeous; certain moments on A Sailor’s Guide are sensitive enough to feel physically adjacent to them. A Sailor’s Guide is a clear departure from the country-leaning propensities present on Metamodern Sounds. In fact, the only tangible thing connecting Simpson’s third LP to the genre is Simpson himself, making A Sailor’s Guide a crystalline example of his versatility and range as an artist. Whether by Simpson’s own design or in spite of it, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is ahead of its time. Perhaps it’s due to his insistence on playing the game by his own rules, but at least compared to the industry standard, A Sailor’s Guide feels at least five years too early. Artists spend decades working up to the level of instrumental variety and emotional awareness that Simpson seems to comprehend at his core, so it feels inherently wrong to be experiencing something so tender and well-rounded this early in his career. But it’s not wrong. It’s incredibly right, because A Sailor’s Guide is an incredible album. And one that captures the Holy Grail sound of ‘Cosmic American Music’ more completely than anything since Gene Clark’s ‘No Other’. So the best thing we can do is push off, set sail, lean back and enjoy the ride.
3. Babyfather – BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow
Babyfather, BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow, a group that comprises Blunt and the (probably fictional) DJ Escrow, with contributions from Arca and Micachu. BBF, it is fair to say, probably won’t be coming out of too many car speakers this summer. It’s far too maudlin, for a start, haunted by the ghosts of violence, crime, drugs and decaying relationships (albeit with a hint of optimism towards the album’s end). BBF rests on clean musical lines, with simple synth melodies or sampled strings rubbing up against beats that nod to club-friendly musical trends Massive Attack are an unexpected reference point, both in BBF’s melodic dub bass lines and the casual-to-the-point-of-coma vocals, which raise the smokey spectre of Tricky or 3D in Massive’s Blue Lines era. As with those two MCs, the vocals on BBF suggest improvisation and spontaneity, with simple melodies and rhymes gently pushed to their limits in a way that is hypnotic, affecting and very low key. BBF is a rare example of an album that invites both arty introspection and head nodding. Much like Blunt himself, BBF is not always easy to love. But that makes the eventual rewards even more satisfying.
4. Kris Drever – If Wishes Were Horses
The Orkney-born singer is best known as frontman with avant-folk trio Lau, whose success has somewhat overshadowed his own records. The 10 originals on this third solo outing confirm Drever’s songwriting talents, eschewing tradition for deft, heartfelt pieces focused on love and loss. Unlike its predecessor, Mark the Hard Earth, there is no great array of instrumentation, Drever relying instead on simple acoustic backings and his own agile guitar playing. If the mood is often rueful, Drever always finds an upturn – “No one gets shipwrecked any more,” as he puts it – and there are tart social observations like the title track’s “I wish that politicians’ ties would tighten up when they tell lies.” Understated and unaffected, its simplicity proves winning.
5. Kevin Morby – Singing Saw
Singer-songwriter Kevin Morby’s third solo album reveals that, at 28, he’s an old head on young shoulders. When not sounding uncannily like Bob Dylan (Water), the former member of Brooklyn psych-folk outfit Woods is worrying about his mental powers (“Will I lose my mind?” he sings on Ferris Wheel) and evoking the Band’s warped Americana. There are allusions to the modern world – I Have Been to the Mountain tackles police brutality – but Morby’s serene folk-rock moves back and forth through time. Black Flowers, one of several tracks rooted in nature, typifies his songwriting prowess, its cryptic lyrics twinned with a gorgeous melody that is both pristine and familiar.
6. M83 – Junk
ANTHONY GONZALEZ has always trafficked in dreams. As the driving creative force behind M83, Gonzalez’s sprawling, outsized shoegaze and synth-indebted pop plays like the sweeping soundtrack to nonexistent motion pictures. “Junk” — perversely, knowingly titled — expands somewhat on the strengths of “Hurry Up,” balancing Italo-disco chill-out atmospheres and calibrated buildups and releases. This happens especially in songs like “Go!” and “Bibi the Dog,” the first with a shredding guitar improvisation by Steve Vai, and both with vocals by the French singer Mai Lan. But these are just more chic, soggy dreams, with tinctures of moodiness. Muppets In Space album cover aside, Gonzalez has still left plenty on Junk for his merry usual band of misfits–the lovers, the dreamers, and him.
7. Konono No1 meets Batida – S/T
Konono team up Portugal’s Pedro Coquenao (better known by his alias, Batida). Whilst Konono’s music depends on the energy generated by the stoicism, endurance and power of an ensemble, Batida operates more as a sound collagist The ostensible connection is that his two albums on the Soundway label have drawn on Angolan music for some of the sampled material. Whilst the instrumentation in the music Batida has used is very different, there are some notable rhythmic similarities and musical priorities. The characteristic elements of Konono’s sound are all present and correct here. The resulting album, jubilant and enthralling, is really a three way collaboration between the two artists and producer, Kenis.
8. J Dilla – The Diary
The legend of J Dilla is built around his beats. The producer, who died 10 years ago of a rare blood disease, is the object of cult fascination for his production work. But this posthumous release sees Dilla trying to reinvent himself as a performer, and showcasing his skills as a rapper. This is a great collection of music. A rework of Gary Numan’s Cars, this time as Trucks, is almost worth it alone: the original synth hook is given a massive injection of heft, and the rest of the track gets an extra electro shiver. Fuck the Police takes its title and subject matter from NWA, but builds a song around a flute loop and a swinging rhythm. He Diary testifies once again
9. Sasha – Scene Delete
Scene Delete, Sasha’s latest album, was inspired by his appreciation of modern classical. The collection is drawn from music he was writing as a sideline to his club tunes, using the relative serenity of styles like ambient and downtempo as a sort of creative catharsis. There are elements of Max Richter, Nils Frahm and Steve Reich (all mentioned by Sasha as influences), while the electronic aspects riff on glitch-meets-melody acts like Jon Hopkins, Boards Of Canada, Burial and James Holden.
10. Clark – The Last Panthers
Chris Clark, a.k.a. Clark, composed the score for a moody British TV serial called The Last Panthers. Here, he shapes this incidental music into a flowing 48-minute suite that conjures almost as much of a story as the show itself. Clark’s made so much more than a soundtrack album here. The Last Panthers is a thoroughly original take on a very familiar aesthetic, and by sheer will Clark’s produced something that ranks amongst the very best of its kind.
This month was swarming with great new releases so we thought we’d up our usual Top 10 to a TOP 25! Here are the ones that just missed out on our top 10 slots:
- Brian Eno – The Ship
- Moderat – III
- Ash Koosha – I AKA I
- Liminanas – Monomore
- Laura Gibson – Empire Builder
- PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
- King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity
- Cate Le Bon – Crab Day
- Rustie – EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE
- Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop – Love Letter For Fire
- The Field – The Follower
- Mogwai – Atomic
- Bibio – A Mineral Love
- The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect
- Explosions In The Sky – The Wilderness
FULL LIST OF OUR TOP 100 ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2015 CLICK HERE. ALSO CHECK OUT UNDER AOTY2015 FOR OUR TOP 20 REISSUES, COMPILATION AND STAFF LISTS.
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