Music: This Week's Album Releases

Elliott Smith

XO

(Dreamworks)

The fact that 's first UK release - of his third album, either/or - only appeared this June makes the progression to this, his first major-label outing, seem all the more extraordinary. Compared to either/or's sparse, bare settings, the arrangements devised by Smith and production team Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf (best known for Beck's "Loser") border on the baroque - not that the songs themselves are any less emotionally naked than before. Smith's songs are plangent musings upon the everyday, a series of confidences in which he searches vainly for the moral in the mundane. They offer a blow-by-blow glimpse of the workings of his peculiar sensitivity, with understated but engaging melodies that establish a familiarity of sorts, but quickly vanish once a song concludes, leaving behind a lingering trace of a tune.

The sophisticated arrangements lend a curiously late-Beatles soft-rock flavour to Smith's ruminations, with a string of other comparisons layered on top. the effect is to unearth a wider range of emotional nuances than were revealed by Smith's three previous albums; commercially, XO could even set this most reclusive of artists along the same road as his label- mate Beck. Stranger things have happened.

Waldemar Bastos

Pretaluz

(Luaka Bop 9 46481-2)

The most sublime release in some time from David Byrne's world-music label, Pretaluz - the name means "black light" - is a masterpiece of restrained flamboyance, a blend of spry African styles which invoke the personal as the political, the whole imbued with a generosity of spirit. Bastos is a self-confessed contradiction, an Angolan exile hailed as the true voice of his country despite having lived in Portugal for much of his life. His position as an apolitical exile allows him to sustain a sense of Angola's character outside the context of the civil war which turned the country into a kind of Cold War sideshow: "Angola, Angola, Angola," he implores in "Querida Angola", "you don't belong to strangers ... you don't belong to this one or that one," a reference to the opposing Soviet- and US-backed forces.

Against this history of hardship, Bastos posits a simple togetherness, exemplified by the eclectic pan- African-and-beyond backings, which assimilate soukous guitar, Latin American and Afro rhythms and traces of Portuguese fado singing into their gentle but persuasive folk-soul surface. The results can be immensely moving: the opening track "Sofrimento" - torment, or suffering - is a remarkable sleight of hand, a powerful emotional current caught in a delicate net of guitar.

Fun Lovin' Criminals

100% Colombian

(Chrysalis CDP 070)

Fun Lovin' Criminals are one of the most sheerly enjoyable live acts around, and on 100% Colombian, they finally pin down that air of consensual roguery in a way which Come Find Yourself, for all its warmth, never managed. Slinky and sensual, their laid-back funk grooves have a supremely relaxed persistence - even the brash "Korean Bodega" rolls with a confident swagger - while Huey's off-hand raps ooze sharp-dressed outlaw cool.

Twin titans Barry White and BB King receive appropriate tribute - the former as the conjugal saviour of "Love Unlimited", the latter making an inimitable guest appearance on "Mini Bar Blues"; and interrupting the cool funk flow are a few rowdier exertions, typified by Huey's saucy (but believable) claims of "supermodels on my D" in "Big Night Out". For the most part, though, he deals with territorial matters: assessing the merits of getting "Up On The Hill" and "Back On The Block", hymning the "Southside", sketching the action on "10th Street", and magnanimously concurring that "The View Belongs To Everyone". Slyly confidential, Huey's nonchalant tales of Big Apple streetlife read like a '90s Damon Runyon, or a particularly casual episode of NYPD Blue: it's all about the character of crime, not just the facts, ma'am.

U.N.K.L.E.

Psyence Fiction

(Mo' Wax MW085CDP)

Three years in the making, this collaboration between Mo' Wax supremo James Lavelle and the label's top-selling act, DJ Shadow, stumbles into the position of musical zeitgeist snapshot through a combination of fortune and prescience. A roster of guests that includes Richard Ashcroft, Thom Yorke, Beastie Boy Mike D, Talk Talk's Mark Hollis and Metallica bassist Jason Newstead indicates the eclectic intentions behind the project, and it says much for U.N.K.L.E.'s approach that most of them are engaged in work at best tangential to their day-job.

The results are diverse, covering just about all areas of modern music, from breakbeat metal and old-skool hip-hop to latterday epic melancholia and the occasional burst of fake soundtrack score, linked together with sci-fi soundbites. The standouts are "Lonely Soul", a nine-minute opus on which Richard Ashcroft searches for the "secret to living" over a shuffling breakbeat, with a string coda by Massive Attack arranger Wil Malone; and "Rabbit In Your Headlights", where jazz drums, Satie-esque piano and a vague looming ambience painstakingly backdrop one of Thom Yorke's most impassioned performances. For all that, the most appealing cut is "Celestial Annihilation", a slice of old-fashioned futurist space-rock.

Baby Bird

There's Something Going On

(Echo ECH CD24)

This is the second album by Baby Bird the band, as opposed to Steven Jones alone, though its shortcomings are still largely his fault. It suffers in part from having to follow Dying Happy, the last of his solo works, and Jones' most rewarding album yet. There's Something Going On isn't a particularly bad album, but its focus on human frailty and obsessional love swiftly becomes overbearing. It's not so much a matter of insight, as of attitude: for all its catchy pop gloss, this is a severely jaundiced album, drawn to dark interpretations of human motives.

There are good moments, none better than the sententious opener "Bad Old Man", a cutting denunciation of an (unnamed) media magnate set to a Morricone-esque piano figure. The effect is impressively Brechtian - one could imagine Lotte Lenya relishing every last phrase. And the way the circling arpeggios of "If You'll Be Mine" subtly evoke the narrator's state of emotional suspension is typical of the album's more artful arrangements. But there are too many lapses into the ploddingly plaintive or overwrought, and too many tracks where loud repetition is substituted for any more adequate climax. One may applaud Baby Bird's attempts to float downbeat observations on uplifting music, but sadly, the freight is too weighty to fly.

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker