Lincoln Durham, "Exodus of the Deemed Unrighteous" (Droog)
As on his 2012 debut, dark portents swirl around young Texas bluesman Lincoln Durham’s second album. Pale horsemen warn of doom; a condemned man offers a “dead man’s rhyme” to his daughter; and the jauntiest song, “Annie Departee”, cheerfully celebrates a female serial killer, Durham’s sinister rasp grating over a single-string cigar-box-guitar riff. The DIY approach is typical of Durham, who draws beats from whatever’s to hand – kalimba, suitcase, oil pan, thigh – and razors slashes of raw slide-guitar across “Rise in the River” and “Beautifully Sewn, Violently Torn”. The chief exception is the tribute to his wife, “Keep on Allie”, where more sensitive emotions are at work.
Download: Rise in the River; Keep on Allie; Beautifully Sewn, Violently Torn; Strike Us Down
Boy & Bear, "Harlequin Dream" (Nettwerk)
Antipodean folk-rockers Boy & Bear shift more into mid-1970s soft-rock territory on Harlequin Dream, already a chart-topper in Australia. It’s fine if you’re in a Guilty Pleasures frame of mind: “Southern Sun” is brimful of gleaming harmonies and sinuous guitar, while the title-track crams in Bee Gees falsetto, “Baker Street” sax and “Ashes to Ashes” grooves like a Frankenstein AOR monster. But it loses impetus elsewhere – “Bridges” and “Back Down the Black” cover various shades from sluggish to turgid; old fans may prefer the country-rocker “End of the Line”. Best of all is the delicate “A Moment’s Grace”, on which songwriter Dave Hosking’s Fleet Foxes influence is clear. It also contains the album’s cutest line: “I’ll hold my missus in a bedful of kisses.” Sweet.
Download: A Moment’s Grace; End of the Line; Southern Sun
Run The Jewels, "Run the Jewels" (Big Dada)
Originally available late last year as a download, this collaboration between Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and New York rapper/producer El-P gets a UK release in an expanded, 13-track CD edition. It’s a masterful set, stuffed with brooding, industrial-synth beats: the title-track’s fast patter over a sinister drone is like a slow descent into hell, while “A Christmas Fucking Miracle” yokes sleigh bells to a dystopian grind. But, despite the turbid darkness, there’s hooky appeal in the doper anthem “No Come Down” and “Sea Legs”, a sly pop at Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch the Throne featuring the best of Mike’s Southern flow and El-P’s Big Apple bite. Rather than pay undue attention to social position, they’re more concerned with simply displaying their lyrical jewels.
Download: Sea Legs; No Come Down; Run the Jewels; A Christmas Fucking Miracle
Benjamin Clementine, "Cornerstone" (Behind)
This debut EP offers a taste of one of 2014’s most promising new talents. With just Benjamin Clementine’s impulsive piano figures accompanying his dark, powerful voice, there’s a soulful solemnity about these searching songs. But there’s also a wealth of imagination at work: “It’s a wonderful life, traversed in tears from the heavens,” he observes in “I Won’t Complain”, surveying the emotional turmoil that renders his heart a “melodrama in fact”; while over flurries of piano, his urgent delivery of “Cornerstone” blends the sensitivity of Antony Hegarty with the wracked passion of Nina Simone, admitting loneliness as his “home, home, home”, but biting off the word to sound like “hope”. A distinctive and impressive new voice.
Download: Cornerstone; I Won’t Complain; London
Howe Gelb, "Little Sand Box" (Fire)
When his record company told Howe Gelb he was over-saturating the market with releases by his band Giant Sand, he started making solo albums to accommodate his seemingly unstoppable muse. And I mean unstoppable: the six albums here (2013’s The Coincidentalist is not included) are augmented by a live album and a disc of his piano pieces. In typical Gelb manner, it’s wide-ranging in styles and standards: he didn’t get this far by excessive quality control, so some parts have a loose feel, while firmer parameters prevail elsewhere. An international cast of musicians helps out, including Calexico, Grandaddy and The Handsome Family, but my favourite of the discs is Alegrías, on which a trip to Spain immersed Gelb’s desert muse fruitfully in flamenco.
Download: Pontiac Slipstream; 4 Door Maverick; Slide Away; Notoriety