Aloe Blacc Lift Your Spirit (Polydor)
Listening to soul man Aloe Blacc’s incredibly forceful, warm voice is like sitting on a radiator. His vocals – which at times evoke Sam Cooke and Otis Reading – are the real star of this diverse, accomplished album.
The eclectic sound isn’t surprising considering that Blacc’s CV includes the West Coast underground rap scene and a stint with a French jazz group. In 2003 he launched himself as a solo artist and had a UK hit in 2010 with the trumpet-heavy “I Need a Dollar”. Since then he’s been a bit quiet. Oh, apart from co-writing and singing on smash hit “Wake Me Up”, No.1 in 103 countries and credited to Swedish DJ Avici. That should keep the royalty cheques rolling in.
But Blacc proves he’s more than capable of stepping into the spotlight for his first major-label album which features 60s soul, folk, retro pop, R’n’B and even country.
“Love Is the Answer” with its horn section has Pharrell Williams’s deft touch all over it and title track “Lift Your Spirit” is a cheesy, Jackson 5 funk-fest of hand-claps. The earnest, acoustic version of “Wake Me Up” is more powerful than the original (if only because you haven’t heard it to death on the radio). And lead single “The Man” is saved from the usual hip hop machismo of the lyrics by a sampling of Elton John’s “Your Song”, and the result is summer in a can.
The end of the album gets a bit tired – ballad “Red Velvet Seat” makes you hit the snooze button – but final track “Can You Do This?” is a brave mash-up of a Western Motown doo-wop, which miraculously works. To be honest, the smoky, sepia-tinged crooning of Aloe Blacc is enough to lift anything up.
School Of Language Old Fears (Memphis Industries)
Whatever David Brewis’s current fears, a terror of being caught standing still must rank highly. The Sunderland art-pop mainstay’s second School of Language album follows gigging work with Eleanor Friedberger, sundry production/remixing jobs and stints with his brother (Peter) in Field Music, evincing a restlessness that also informs School’s itchy intelli-pop.
This kind of fidgety mentality can devolve into airy vagaries but Brewis’s sparse beats, jagged guitars, spacious electronics, and anxiety-sharpened lyrics make tense work of it. Economic work, too. Ranging from Neptunes-ish minimalism to Goblin-esque ambience and Peter Gabriel-ish art-funk in a mere 35 minutes, Old Fears is the sound of a quick, keen mind at work and play.
Todd Terje It’s Album Time (Olsen)
In all honesty, we were worried that the summer of 2014 would be a mere shadow of the summer of 2013-cum-Daft Punk, lacking as it might have done a perfectly manicured retro-futurist new dance LP with which to while away the hours. So thank goodness for Norwegian DJ/producer Terje’s debut LP.
The Instagram of albums, which is to say a source of instant nostalgia, its 70s- and 80s-inspired cocktail of disco, house, lounge, samba et al, could be merely kitsch but is elevated both by the meticulousness of its production and the sinuous seductiveness of its melodies. Best of all is the sole vocal track, a gauzy, upsettingly beautiful cover of Robert Palmer’s “Johnny and Mary” featuring Bryan Ferry; it simply demands a sunset.
Judith Owen Ebb And Flow (Twanky)
She’s Welsh, she plays piano and she loves the music of the early-’70s LA canyons, especially Joni Mitchell’s. In fact her debt is so uncomplicated and honestly expressed that you forgive her slavishness. Plus she has engaged the services of such LA sessioneers as Lee Sklar, Russ Kunkel and Waddy Wachtel to (gently) rock her Mitchell-esque melodic and phraseological conceits into the Cymrifornian sunset.
The songs? They’re OK: thoughtful, wise, primarily concerned with expressing experience. And she’s partial to a cover: James Taylor’s “Hey Mister, That’s Me Up On the Jukebox” and, unexpectedly, Ray Dorset’s “In the Summertime”. You can almost hear the summer lawns hissing.
Metá Metá Metal Metal (Mais Um Disco)
The press release says “Afro-punk” but that doesn’t do justice to what is in fact an extremely sophisticated mix of jazz, funk and art-rock. However, the sturdy armature on which this Sao Paulo trio have imposed their 21st-century sensibilities is one of ancient Afro-Brazilian rhythms and primal melodies celebrating long-forgotten deities and superstitions.
The end result balances accessible hooks and grooves with delicious outbursts of expressionist saxophone and distorted guitar. Over these tense, sometimes Waitsian arrangements, Jucara Marcal’s measured vocals become a necessary anchoring element as the storm rages around her. The first really serious contender for album of the year thus far.