Album reviews: Elbow, Mø, Dan Croll, Ann Peebles, Arve Henriksen
Sunday 09 March 2014
Elbow The Take Off And Landing Of Everything (Fiction)
If this album title suggests an urge to face the future after 2011’s nostalgic Build a Rocket Boys!, Bury’s finest are up to the job. This, their sixth album, didn’t come without testing times. Guy Garvey split from his partner, then decamped to New York to recover. Band members wrote songs disparately, too, but the results suggest that Elbow’s robust core values would see them right even if they moved to different planets.
Characteristic notes of empathy and emotional acuity guide these meditations on ageing, destabilisation and sustaining friendship; universal subjects couched, as is Elbow’s wont, in humble specifics. “This Blue World” handles grandiose images (“Was the universe in rehearsal for us?”) with loving restraint, the obvious, more grand-standing approach avoided. When Garvey writes about love, he dodges platitudes and targets minute details, as in “Fly Boy Blue/Lunette”: “Where are the words for the leap in my chest/ When mischief appears either side of the scar on your nose/ Made by a rose thorn...”. When tipsy male bonds are toasted in “My Sad Captains”, striking images (“The BMX apothecary”) and noble, brassy flourishes elevate it above hug-a-mate anthemic cliché.
Elsewhere, big themes take anchor in fine-tuned character studies. “Charge” doubles as a drunken old rocker’s complaint and a study in mid-life loneliness, “The Blanket of Night” as the tender tale of two ocean-tossed asylum seekers and a hymn to romantic constancy.
Between the pub and the high seas, Elbow reset their mission statement here: to navigate the heart’s tides with their art intact.
Mø No Mythologies To Follow (RCA Victor)
Joining the musical dots between fellow Scandi electro-popstrels Lykke Li and Robyn comes the Danish artist Mø, aka Karen Marie Ørsted.
Her debut is an accomplished, glossily shimmering thing. There are chart-friendly melodies and retro-synths (“Red in the Grey” opens like it’s “Take On Me”) and vocals evoking bankable acts from Lana Del Ray to Shakira. But there’s also surging bass and dancefloor-shaking stomp (see the Diplo-featuring “XXX 88”), laptop-bothering skittish beats, blasts of brass and even unexpected peals of almost West African-style guitars.
Enough wonk and weird, then, to distinguish Mø from other predictable dance-pop puppets. There must be something in those fjords…
Dan Croll Sweet Disarray (Deram)
While listening to this inoffensive folkie electro-pop you can’t help feel like you’re in an advert, one where smiley hipsters are on a road trip and everyone’s bopping along to the nice plinky, synthy sounds.
So, it’s not surprising that Toshiba recently used the catchy “From Nowhere” to try to flog us all tablets. There’s a distinctly East Coast, MGMT-meets-Vampire-Weekend vibe to Croll’s sound, which gets a bit grating considering he’s actually from Staffordshire. But expect to hear Sweet Disarray Spotify-ed at every bland dinner party from now until Christmas or soundtracking your next trip to that clothes store that thinks it’s a bit cool. It won’t frighten the horses, but it might encourage you to buy an overpriced T-shirt. Job’s a good ’un.
Ann Peebles I Can’t Stand The Rain (Hi/Fat Possum)
Only Peebles’s 1970s output for Willie Mitchell’s Hi label rivalled Al Green’s as the apotheosis of a certain kind of slinky, skinned-back Memphis soul. And what a sound it was: penumbral rhythms cooking on low, the pocket deep, tight and minimalistic – resulting in maximal drama.
The title track of this 1974 album was the minor UK hit – a scouring, burnt-out love lamentation on a parched groove – but the rest of the album continues the tone: the agonies of love expressed caustically and without ideological back-up.
Sadly, Fat Possum isn’t re-releasing Straight From the Heart, but the other five albums in the canon are all present and soberly correct. Soul scaled to the true compass of the broken heart: not a big thing but a real thing.
Arve Henriksen Chron + Cosmic Creation Rune (Grammofon)
Norwegian trumpeter/soundscaper Henriksen’s last album, the critically lauded Places of Worship, proved so listenable that it almost risked popularity. This is his experimental revenge.
Chron, which appeared in vinyl form as part of the seven-LP box-set Solidification, is a kind of electronica audio-diary recorded at home and in transit (hotels, airports, backstage). More sound than music, it’s sort-of-interesting but hardly essential and unlikely to be played very often.
In contrast, Cosmic Creation is the real Henriksen deal, with each of the eight numbered parts repaying close attention as the instrumental textures gradually take shape and then build into long-form coherence. It’s wispy ambient music with a thrilling sense of danger.
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