Album reviews: Kate Tempest - Let Them Eat Chaos, Seasick Steve - Keepin’ The Horse Between Me And The Ground, Green Day - Revolution Radio

Also, Goat - Requiem, Bob Weir - Blue Mountain, and more

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Kate Tempest, Let Them Eat Chaos

★★★★☆

Download: Picture A Vacuum; Ketamine For Breakfast; Europe Is Lost; Perfect Coffee; Tunnel Vision

Kate Tempest’s follow-up to the dazzling Everybody Down is similarly ambitious in scope, fired by the same compassion and delivered with the same level of energised loquacity. It’s another concept album, this time focussing on seven disparate lonely London neighbours, variously trapped by the capital’s grubby degradations, and all unable to sleep in the wee small hours as they contemplate their lives.

Set as before to scudding dubclash electronics and beats that capture the city’s addictive edginess, Tempest’s character vignettes come from obvious empathy with the likes of the PR guy in “Pictures On A Screen”, who feels like a passenger in his own life; the carer in “Europe Is Lost” struggling to resist the “top-down violence” through which politicians control the poor; and the raver in “Whoops” suffering insomniac drug psychosis (“I’m lying in my bed, and my brain is eating my head”). Most have doubts about the course of their life, though even the relatively positive Gemma, in “Ketamine For Breakfast”, finds it hard to get ahead: “My future is bright, but my past is killing me”.

At the opposite extreme, the tenant in “Perfect Coffee” glumly packs her possessions away, evicted so that her landlord can cash in on creeping gentrification. “The squats we used to party in are flats we can’t afford/The dumps we did our dancing in have all been restored,” she muses, in an angry and devastating depiction of the capital’s decline into the sterile playground of a wealthy international elite. The subtext is clear: this city used to be a vibrant cultural hub, now it’s just an alienating agglomeration of interchangeable overpriced coffee joints, shoe shops and tourist tat, with affordable nightlife squeezed out on the slimmest pretext, to make way for apartment pieds-a-terre for absentee occupiers. Who’d want to live in a place like this?

Well, Kate Tempest still does, for one: her descriptive passages are so lovingly wrought – I particularly liked the view of “clouds like furious ink” – that it’s clear she still finds something addictive about London; and when a thunderstorm brings the seven protagonists together, they see their city anew, washed clean by the rain. It’s a shared epiphany that sets up the epilogue of “Tunnel Vision”, an impassioned plea for empathy for the dispossessed, the refugees and poor in whom she sees the future lifeblood of the city. “We’re just sparks, tiny parts of a bigger constellation,” she reflects: a lesson well worth learning.

 

Seasick Steve, Keepin’ The Horse Between Me And The Ground

★★★☆☆

Download this: Shipwreck Love; Bullseye; Gypsy Blood

Seasick Steve’s eighth album features his usual thematic portfolio of songs about wanderlust and love treated with a broader palette of styles: so although “Gypsy Blood” and “Grass Is Greener” both deal with itchy feet, the former is a feisty, slashing slide-guitar blues, while the latter takes the form of a country hoedown. Elsewhere, coolly resonant electric piano gives “Bullseye” the flavour of “Respect Yourself”, and “Hell” attacks tax-dodgers with the waspish fizz of a Canned Heat boogie. But it’s the quiet weariness of “Shipwreck Love” that’s most effective, its minimal alliance of guitar and violin gently emphasising Steve’s promise to offer a safe harbour from the “hidden shoals, breaker of souls”. Passionate and warm, it’s his most impressive vocal performance, heralding a bonus CD of folksier material including covers of “Everybody’s Talkin’” and “Gentle On My Mind”.

 

Goat, Requiem

★★★★☆

Download this: Temple Rhythms; Trouble In The Streets; Goatband; Try My Robe; It’s Not Me

The latest album from Swedish communards Goat adds more far-flung flavours to their cultish mantra jams – notably the balafon or kalimba anchoring the riff of “It’s Not Me” – though for the first few tracks, the prevalence of flutes and folksy textures seems to confirm the raggle-taggle Incredible String Band impression offered by the sleeve photos. But when they get their teeth into a groove, Goat’s alloying of krautrock and Afrobeat, desert blues and psychedelia proves irresistible. Laced with woozy streaks of slide guitar, “Trouble In The Streets” rides a cyclical African guitar figure, while the rolling, mesmeric trance-groove of “Goatband” resembles the looped intro of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. The lyrics may lack potency – “My robe tastes like food, try my robe!” howls the singer over the skirling mandolin of “Try My Robe” – but the music has its own persuasive logic.

 

Bob Weir, Blue Mountain

★★★☆☆

Download this: Ki-Yi Bossie ; Cottonwood Lullaby; Gallop On the Run; Ghost Towns

Despite the air of finality about last year’s Fare Thee Well shows, rumours of the Grateful Dead’s passing have been somewhat exaggerated. Certainly, Bob Weir remains as busy as ever, shepherding the band’s legacy through performances with Dead & Company, and now releasing his first solo album in decades. Blue Mountain finds him in reflective country mode on a series of murder ballads, outlaw tales and cowboy lullabies mostly co-written with Joshes Ritter and Kaufman, and featuring contributions from The National’s Dessner twins and Scott Devendorf. The widescreen south-western ambience is stippled with intriguing touches, like the shruti box and bowed guitar droning through “Gallop On The Run”, and the rhythmic rattling chains of the death ballad “Lay My Lily Down”; though the most moving performance is Weir’s plaintive solo piece “Ki-Yi Bossie”, oozing empathy for a reluctant penitent alcoholic.

 

Green Day, Revolution Radio

★★☆☆☆

Download: Bang Bang; Ordinary World

There’s a frustrating disjunction between intention and execution on Green Day’s Revolution Radio, which Billie Joe Armstrong has explained is meant to reflect the violent culture of American society these days. To be fair, tracks like “Bang Bang”, exploring the deadly alliance of guns, fame and social media, bear out his claim; but there’s little point preaching peace when your music is so exultantly explosive. The charging riffs of Revolution Radio would be perfect for hyping soldiers up before a battle, while the lyrical imagery relies depressingly on armaments, as in the claim that “I was a high school atom bomb”. Even the romance of “Youngblood” is couched in sociopathic metaphors: “I wanna hold you like a gun”. We may well live in “Troubled Times”, but how does this focus on rage and firearms help? Protest is surely a matter of tone, as well as subject.

 

Orkesta Mendoza, ¡Vamos A Guarachar!

★★★☆☆

Download: Cumbia Volcadora; Misterio; Mapache!; Redoble

Led by Sergio Mendoza, one of the principal players behind the Mexrrissey project – which earlier this year recast Morrissey and Smiths songs in Mexican guise – Orkesta Mendoza comes from the same Tucson Tex-Mex crossover scene that spawned the great south-western soundscapers Calexico. Accordingly, ¡Vamos A Guarachar! refracts the mambos, cumbias and merengues of Mendoza’s youth through modernist influences. Thus both the strings and reeds of the ballad “Misterio”, and the staccato organ groove of “Mapache!”, are haunted by spacey theremin sounds, while the majestic “Cumbia Volcadora”, with its loping skank driven by cavernous, propulsive bass and burnished by bright trumpets, is peppered with dub effects and drop-outs. It’s great fun throughout, from the elegant sway of “Mambo A La Rosana” to the strident rock guitars of “Caramelos”: a musically defiant riposte to the virulent separatism of Donald Trump.

 

Luke Haines, Smash The System

★★★☆☆

Download: Ulrike Meinhof’s Brain Is Missing; Marc Bolan Blues; The Incredible String Band; Smash The System

Smash The System finds Luke Haines indebted as ever to an earlier era – in this case, the early-Seventies cusp of hippie and glam, mostly viewed through an Eighties electropop gauze. It’s familiar territory for Haines, who observes in “Bomber Jacket”, “Caught myself in the past, gazing in a car wing mirror”. The songs are littered with piquant period references – Eric Bristow, Bruce Lee, Roman Polanski, spaghetti hoops – often in absurd situations, such as the mash-up of teutonic terrorism and mad-scientist sci-fi that is “Ulrike Meinhof’s Brain Is Missing”. But Haines’s genuine affection shines through fond tributes like the chugging glam boogie “Marc Bolan Blues” and acid-folk exploration “The Incredible String Band”, justly admired for singing “like a couple of weasels trapped in a sack” their whimsical songs about “caterpillars, hedgehogs and death”. Ah, happy days!

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