Album reviews: Kasabian, Parquet Courts, Martin & Eliza Carthy, Holland Dozier Holland, Ethan Johns, James

 

Kasabian 48.13 (Columbia)

Approaching Kasabian’s fifth album, songwriter/producer Sergio Pizzorno opted for a more slimmed-down sound, stripping away layers of sound to allow the ideas to speak more clearly. The attitude extends to the album title (the aggregate time of the tracks), and to the individual track titles themselves, which are lower-case, single-word tags rather than verbose statements of intent.

It’s a brave but largely successful move, as is the shift from mainly guitar-riff-based songs to ones predominantly fuelled by synthesisers: the ghost of Kraftwerk hovers over the elegant industry of “explodes”, while the cycling sequenced electronics of “glass” could find a welcome on the dancefloor, were it not for the contrasting passages of acoustic guitar (not to mention the concluding rap referencing Moses and Rosa Parks in its encouragement of maverick endurance).

There are still, of course, remnants of their stadium-sized UK Sixties psych-rock influences, most notably the euphoric “clouds”, while the concluding “s.p.s” (scissors, paper, stone) allows the album to glide away in a haze of quiet rhythm guitar and lap steel. But the obvious festival anthems here are mainly electro-rockers, like the single “eez-eh” – where Tom Meighan threatens to keep us up all night: “no rhyme or reason, I’m just trying to set the world to rights” – and the lolloping opener “bumblebee”, whose pogoing chorus pulse emphasises the theme of togetherness in the sunshine and under the moonlight.

An extensive synth coda of loping electro-symphonic funk extends the nervy “treat” to almost seven minutes, but elsewhere things are kept tighter and shorter and punchier. The main exception comes with “stevie”, the electro pulse of which is tempered with a rising cello figure and brooding horns, as Meighan urges an excitable youth to “calm down, take your medication... live to fight another day”. But it’s a rarity on an album mostly stuffed with the kind of calls to arms designed to get festivals jumping.

****

Download: bumblebee; glass; explodes; clouds

Parquet Courts Sunbathing Animal (Rough Trade)

Rising US indie combo Parquet Courts make giant strides on this third outing, where they locate an effective nexus where grunge meets meets avant-rock in colourful pop livery. “Bodies Made Of” sets the tone with a raggedy garage-rock slouch slashed with oblique chords and tangential guitar fills, suggesting they’re heirs to Pavement; at other times, the ramshackle grunge blues of “She’s Rollin’” and shrilly atonal guitar interplay of “Vienna II” bring to mind a poppier Magic Band. But the jangly punk momentum of “Black & White”and pell-mell monochord thrash of “Sunbathing Animal” pull things back to the mainstream, while the most memorable piece is provided by the recurrent twang-tone motif and trudging riff of the seven-minute “Instant Disassembly”.

****

Download: Instant Disassembly; Bodies Made Of; She’s Rollin’; Black & White

Martin & Eliza Carthy The Moral of the Elephant (Topic)

This first album by the father and daughter of the first family of folk could have been recorded at any time during the past few decades, so enduring are the material and performances. His voice has a gnarled nobility that illuminates the rudest of material, and his guitar work, especially on the opener “Her Servant Man”, negotiates shifting metre in innovative style. Alongside social commentaries like “Bonny Moorhen” (starving miners vs hired thugs) and “Blackwell Merry Night” (antique party anthem), there are some surprises, from “Queen Caraboo”, an 18th-century gypsy whose outlandish behaviour made her an early feminist icon, to Eliza’s cover of “Happiness” by Molly Drake (mother of Nick), a song redolent of crepuscular sitting-room Englishness.

***

Download: Her Servant Man; Happiness; Blackwell Merry Night

Various artists Holland Dozier Holland: The Complete 45s Collection (Harmless)

The production team Holland-Dozier-Holland were Motown’s gold standard, responsible for 25 No 1s, and their departure might have crippled the company had Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye not matured so spectacularly. For their part, HDH went on to crank out hits on their own labels for the likes of Freda Payne (“Band of Gold”) and Chairmen of the Board. This 14CD collection covers their entire post-Motown output, from overlooked funk classics like Lee Charles’ “Somebody’s Gonna Hurt You, Like You Hurt Me” to the great run of Chairmen of the Board hits, such as “Give Me Just a Little More Time”, featuring the distinctive pained tenor of their ace in the hole, General Johnson.

*****

Download: Band of Gold; Give Me Just a Little More Time; Finders Keepers; Somebody’s Gonna Hurt You, Like You Hurt Me

Ethan Johns The Reckoning (Three Crows)

Producer Ethan Johns’ second album as a singer-songwriter takes the form of a song-cycle about the Younger brothers’ journey to America, where James’s behaviour endangers his younger sibling. It’s produced by Ryan Adams in a style that echoes the directness of a Sixties transatlantic folk album. His baritone burr recalls the warmth and intimacy of Tom Rush, but Johns’ songwriting owes a massive debt to Dylan, whether he’s demanding “tales of hardship and woe, of heartache I’ll never know” in the rippling “Among the Sugar Pines”, pondering the “glory in death” in “The Lo Down Ballad of James Younger”, or emulating “Meet Me in the Morning” with the waspish slide guitar of “Talking Talking Blues”. It’s a pleasant enough effort, but lacks the distinctive touch that might set it apart in a very crowded field.

***

Download: Among the Sugar Pines; Talking Talking Blues; You Changed

James La Petite Mort (Cooking Vinyl)

James’s first album in six years was inspired by the deaths of Tim Booth’s mother and a close friend, which gives a grim aspect to songs “All In My Mind” and “Quicken The Dead”. Elsewhere, boosted by the euphoric production style of Max Dingel (Muse, The Killers), there’s a positive energy about “Curse Curse” and “Walk Like You” that speaks of ambition and optimism. “Let’s inspire, let’s inflame, create art from our pain,” Booth sings on the latter, set to Euro-thriller piano and strings. “Curse Curse” likewise extols an enthusiasm for inspiration. “Bitter Virtue” pursues a familiar James theme - condemnation of repressive moralities - but elsewhere, things are more ineffectual, nowhere more so than when Booth literally sings “blah blah blah” in “Gone Baby Gone”.

***

Download: Walk Like You; Curse Curse; Bitter Virtue

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