Album reviews: Asgeir, Sheryl Crow, Drowners, Bill Callahan, David Crosby, Snowbird

 

Asgeir "In the Silence" (One Little Indian)

Given a “soft” UK release last year as a download, Asgeir Trausti’s In The Silence has a charm and presence that marks the young Icelander out as a significant talent, the appeal of its fragile hymns to nature and the numinous growing through the intervening months. It’s no surprise that the Icelandic version of the album became the country’s most successful debut album by a homegrown artist, outselling even Björk and Sigur Rós, artists whose international profiles the gifted folk singer will surely emulate.

Now that the original lyrics  have been translated into English by John Grant, it’s clear how closely they suit Asgeir’s angelic vocal tones: “I lift my mind to the sky and I let it take flight,” he sings on the opening “Higher”, in an airy, gossamer voice that soars effortlessly into the higher register, “All that surrounds me seems to melt into the eternal.” The title track, meanwhile, celebrates dreams as a restoration of the imagination akin to sunrise: “As we dream, gentle hands are shaping further, higher, as the new day enters.”

There’s a characteristically Scandinavian form of pantheism in operation throughout the album – albeit tinged with a similarly Scandinavian hint of melancholy – with “In Harmony” extolling the warmth of sanctuary offered by fjords, and “Torrent” depicting a nighttime storm as a clash between “Gods of fire”, its dramatic piano arrangement scarred with fuzz-guitar chords.

Nature is celebrated in more small-scale, particular terms in “Summer Guest”, Asgeir welcoming the “sweet and pure tones” of a songbird in his garden: like recognising like, surely. His acoustic fingerpicking and intimate vocals here recall José González, while elsewhere Gudmundur Kristinn Jónsson’s production envelops Asgeir’s fragile gifts in dense but delicate arrangementsthat unerringly evoke the songs’ emotional and elemental themes of love and harmony. A natural wonder.

****

Download: Higher; In Harmony; Summer Guest; In the Silence

Sheryl Crow "Feels Like Home" (Warner Bros)

Feels Like Home finds Sheryl Crow safely ensconced in Nashville, reverting to default country-rock mode. It’s a snug fit, though hardly tests her limits. But she has a facility with genre conventions in cheery let’s-live numbers such as “We Oughta Be Drinkin’” and the twangsome opener “Shotgun”, an open-road anthem in which she encourages us to “drive it like it’s stolen”; and even the standard dig at contemporary social cliches, “Crazy Ain’t Original”, brings a fresh spin to tired attitudes. The weepiest ballad, “Waterproof Mascara”, likewise seeks a new slant on an old routine, Sheryl recommending the cosmetic in question because “it won’t run like his daddy did”. Musically it’s standard rockin’ country fare, save for the poignant tints of accordion applied to “Homecoming Queen”.

***

Download: Shotgun; Waterproof Mascara; Homecoming Queen

Drowners "Drowners" (French Kiss)

New York combo Drowners may be named after a Suede song, but their self-titled debut owes little to Suede’s gutter-glam aesthetic. Fronted by Matthew Hitt, a boyishly pretty transplanted Welshman, their brusque punk-pop style and his louche intonation suggest a tidier version of the Libertines. “Long Hair” is typical: with brisk chording and engaging chorus, it’s a smash’n’grab of streetwise pop smarts. There’s an engaging conversational manner about Hitt’s lyrics and delivery, which in songs like “Ways to Phrase a Rejection” and “Watch You Change” focus on the frustrations of romantic relations. But he’s not entirely lacking confidence, cockily claiming in “A Button on Your Blouse” that “these days I rarely leave the house, and I hate the thought of you missing out”.

***

Download: Long Hair; Ways to Phrase  a Rejection; A Button on Your Blouse

Bill Callahan "Have Fun with God" (Drag City)

The indie/country/dub crossover is a thinly populated territory, but Bill Callahan inhabits it profitably on this dub version of last year’s Dream River. It’s a surprisingly congruent approach: dub’s use of space lends itself well to Callahan’s languid, open apprehensions of the seasonal round, and its emphasis on rhythm gives a firmer grounding to the floating extemporisations of some tracks. His band’s gentle shuffles are pared back to the bare necessities, with smears of violin, flute and guitar dabbed in impressionist brush-strokes behind his baritone as it traverses a cavernous reverb. At its best, on “Ride My Dub”, “Expanding Dub” and “Call It Dub”, the results offer snatched glimpses of the eternal in the fleeting moment. Even better than its parent album.

****

Download: Ride My Dub; Expanding Dub; Call It Dub; Thank Dub

David Crosby "Croz" (Blue Castle)

It’s been 20 years since David Crosby’s last solo offering, but Croz finds his fire undimmed, and his freak flag still proudly flying, if slightly tattered. He’s always been an unconventional songwriter, a reputation he confirms by using the phrase “cognitive dissonance” in “Time I Have”, a song about how he doesn’t want to waste his remaining years in fear or anger. The setting is typical of the album, with elegant curlicues of lead guitar against an amorphous backdrop of fretless bass, 12-string guitar and keyboard colouration. Themes and treatments echo earlier works: “Set That Baggage Down” is about putting old demons of addiction behind him, “Radio” employs another of his favourite sailing metaphors, and the guitar arrangement to “If She Called” echoes “Guinnevere”, for a song about prostitution.

***

Download: Time I Have; The Clearing; If She Called

Snowbird "(Moon)" (Bella Union)

It’s hardly surprising that Simon Raymonde should revert to Cocteau Twins mode in his return to recording after a 15-year hiatus, but it’s still shocking just how similar his Snowbird partner Stephanie Dosen’s airy, ethereal voice is to that of Liz Fraser. Set to simple piano arrangements, it’s best displayed on “I Heard the Owl Call My Name”, cascading in subtle repetitions, or wrapped in tendrils of flute on “All Wishes Are Ghosts”. As the album progresses, however, the fanciful lyrical menagerie of swans, foxes and bears grows tiresome – nature far from red in tooth and claw, more the Edwardian Country Lady equivalent of Bat for Lashes.  It’s not helped by the miasmic, fluffy music, despite the input of sundry Midlakes and Radioheads. Pleasant enough, but too twee.

***

Download: I Heard the Owl Call My Name; All Wishes Are Ghosts; Heart of the Woods

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
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.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing